Access to justice: a good lawyer is not enough

10 December 2016

Brussels, 10 December 2016 – On World Human Rights Day, ASF is calling for access to justice to also be a reality outside courts and tribunals. Lawyers must work more with other stakeholders, such as para legals and medical and social support services. Additionally, people seeking justice actively play a fundamental role in claiming and achieving their rights; they themselves therefore become agents for change.

Access to justice is not a right which requires an exclusively judicial response. In many situations, solutions for people seeking justice must also be found outside courts and tribunals, particularly if the judicial system is paralysed. This observation has been made by ASF in the different countries where it is active, in partnership with bar associations and civil society stakeholders.

As a case in point, the phenomenon of widespread preventive detention is a challenge. Therefore in the Democratic Republic of Congo, ASF has worked with a number of bar associations. The Congolese lawyers recruited to fight against illegal detentions have brought around 3,000 cases before the relevant courts (click here for testimonies from detainees). Over the course of the project*, the action has had a positive effect. However, the situation is still difficult and requires more comprehensive and structural responses to achieve lasting change, beyond the problem of shortcomings in the courts.

Even when the lawyers are technically competent, their long-term impact may prove to be relatively limited. The intervention of a lawyer alone is not enough. In order to meet the need for justice, guarantee the implementation of human rights and fight against impunity through the promotion of mechanisms for access to justice which are sustainable and suited to people’s needs, lawyers must join forces with others: para legals, informal community stakeholders and stakeholders from the psycho-medical-social sector, among others.

Moreover, for several years, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Tunisia and even in Chad, ASF has been implementing projects based on legal empowerment. In order to help the justice system to work better, people seeking justice, supported by lawyers and civil society organisations, must be able to enhance their ability to act effectively as fully-fledged stakeholders, in order to claim their rights and contribute to achieving them. To this end, making people aware of their rights is deemed to be a vital initial step.

In order to achieve lasting change, lawyers and other stakeholders must act in close collaboration with those seeking justice. Therefore, together they will be able to strengthen the trust of people seeking justice in the formal justice mechanisms, promote a system of justice which more deeply recognises peoples’ needs and expectations, and finally, reinforce and build upon the informal dynamics of justice by instilling automatic reflexes which respect human rights.

* financed by the Belgian Development Cooperation.

Picture © Rosalie Colfs for ASF

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