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Legal Empowerment of the Poor in Nicaragua

By: Margot Kokke, Pedro Vuskovic

In Nicaragua – one of the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere – a new type of intervention has been developed to facilitate access to justice for the rural poor. Facilitadores Judiciales are volunteers, selected by the community, who assist judges and other legal authorities in effecting the rule of law in their area. One of their tasks is to facilitate mediations. They work under the supervision of the local judge. This intervention offers a new way to integrate informal alternative dispute resolution operated by representatives of the local communities with the formal justice sector. In this way, it brings the rule of law much closer to the homes of the Nicaraguans. Another remarkable aspect is that the facilitators work on a voluntary basis, so the intervention is low cost, making it scalable and much more affordable for developing countries than other access to justice interventions such as subsidized legal aid and extra funding for state courts. The “Programa de Facilitadores Judiciales” now covers all rural communities in Nicaragua, is being extended to urban areas, and has been introduced in Paraguay (2008) and Panama (2009). This paper explains the intervention and the program supporting it, reports the available data about impact, and explains how this intervention fits in with current theory about access to justice and dispute system design. It concludes with listing its possible strengths and weaknesses.