E-Consultation: Early Access to Legal Aid in Criminal Proceedings

UNDP and UNODC are collaborating to develop A Handbook and Training Curriculum for Policymakers and Practitioners on Early Access to legal aid in Criminal Investigations and Proceedings. This knowledge product builds on UNDP and UNODC efforts to develop a knowledge base and provide practical policy tools to practitioners on legal aid programming, particularly in Africa. This E-Consultation is aimed at soliciting inputs and specific country experiences and examples from UNDP and UNODC staff, experts and practitioners to feed into the formulation of the handbook and ensure it reflects current challenges and good practices. Network members are invited to address the following questions:

  • Are there schemes in place to provide early access for suspects and accused?If so, how are they regulated (e.g. laws, regulations, informally, etc.)? Are these schemes institutionalized? How are they governed and implemented?
  • Who are the legal aid providers? (i.e. private lawyers, public defenders, paralegals, etc.)
  • Have vulnerable groups (children, disabled, women, refugees, minorities, PLHIV/AIDs etc.) benefited from these schemes? If so, were there specific mechanisms put in place to address these groups?
  • Is there any data available on the impact of these schemes? Please share any studies, official reports or evaluation reports. If possible including data on the number of persons receiving services, the impact on pre-trial detention decisions, diversion from criminal proceedings, impact on vulnerable groups etc.
  • What were the main challenges in establishing/implementing these schemes? Which factors contributed to their success/failure? What key lessons learned would you share for inclusion in this handbook for practitioners developing or implementing UNDP/UNODC projects in this area?

In addition to your contributions, please also share a brief description of the program and its outputs (to be included as examples in the handbook); as well as any research undertaken on this subject, legal documents, project documents, evaluations and other materials that are relevant to the study and the questions raised. We’d also appreciate examples of training schemes on early access to legal aid for lawyers or police officers, codes of conduct or service delivery standards for those providing legal aid, and any relevant forms used by police or legal service providers. Participants are also invited to express interest to participate in potential pilot of the study once finalized.

Networks members are encouraged to participate in this e-consultation by submitting your contributions to

Background Information – Why a Consultation?

Effective legal aid and legal services are essential to ensure access to justice, increased accountability, empowerment of the poor, and human-rights based approach to sustainable human development. International and regional legal instruments affirm the right to legal assistance particularly in criminal proceedings and encourage state parties to provide free legal aid in order to uphold the right of access to justice for all. The 2004 Lilongwe Declaration on Accessing Legal Aid in the Criminal Justice System in Africa and the United Nations Principles and Guidelines on Access to Legal Aid in Criminal Justice Systems recently adopted by the General Assembly resolution A/RES/67/187 further elaborate the nature of state obligations to provide legal aid in criminal justice matters and propose practical measures for their implementation.

Notable progress has been made in expansion of legal aid services throughout the world. However, multiple barriers such as lack of information and awareness about rights and obligations, cultural and linguistic limitations, physical location, financial capacity, lack of trust and capacity of formal systems and traditional justice systems that further entrench existing social inequalities continue to exclude many from benefiting from these services.

recent UNODC Survey on Access to Legal Aid in Africa found that there is little likelihood of people going through the criminal justice process benefiting from legal services. Research by UNDP and Open Society Justice Initiative further suggests that lack of adequate protection during criminal justice processes, particularly during the early stages, is directly related to detrimental social and economic impact at the individual, community and societal levels. Although access to legal services is critical at all stages, the early stages of a criminal justice process are critical to the trajectory and outcome of the overall criminal process. Where essential legal services are not in place, a significant potential negative impact on the overall outcome and fairness of the process is more likely.

Early access mainly refers to the provision of legal assistance at the initial phase of the criminal justice process beginning from the time a person interacts with the police as a possible suspect through initial pretrial stages. It is often facilitated by ‘call-in’ schemes (e.g., using nominated lawyer, duty lawyer, or ad hoc arrangements), the location of lawyers and/or paralegals at police stations/detention facilities and ‘visiting’ schemes, where lawyers/paralegals periodically visit police and correctional detention facilities. While the benefits of early access are well established, there is little knowledge and practical guidance for policy makers and practitioners on how to set up early access schemes, pre-requisites for their effectiveness, possible structure and delivery mechanisms and the roles and responsibilities and various actors.

January 29, 2013 | Namati