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“Too Far Removed from the People-” Access to Justice for the Poor: The Case of Latin America

By: Roberto Gargarella

This paper discusses access to justice for the poor in Latin American countries. It takes its cue from the ‘Latin American legal paradox’: provisions for economic and social rights are generously incorporated into the legal framework of most countries, yet they score poorly in terms of accommodating those rights for the poor. The author enumerates the problems facing the poor when seeking redress through the court system: lack of information; high costs; corruption; excessive formalism; fear and mistrust; inordinate delays; and geographical distance. While acknowledging the significance of these obstacles the author goes on to discuss the very structure of the judiciaries, deliberately insulated from the populace. He points to the lack of representation on the bench of significant minorities – especially the underprivileged – and to the fact that the judiciary is basically a ‘reactive’ institution, which has frustrated social activism through its rulings. The final part of the paper reviews ‘informal’ mechanisms of justice at the local level and the gradual acknowledgement of such approaches by formal legal institutions.
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Uploaded on: Feb 13, 2012
Last Updated: Dec 04, 2015
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