Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Haiti: a Setback for Legal Aid in Port-au-Prince

According to news reports, the extent of the devastation in Port–au-Prince, the capital of Haiti, grows daily. One important project affected by the earthquake is the young and developing legal aid program in Haiti.

At the IBA Annual Conference in Chicago in fall 2006, the then-President of the Port-au-Prince Bar and Vice-President of the Federation of the Bars of Haiti, Gervaise Charles, discussed the legal aid program of the Bar in the context of the many other access to justice issues presented by the Haitian legal infrastructure. This legal aid program, in effect for less than two years, was limited to penal matters, but had achieved favorable results beyond which those that the Port-au-Prince Bar had thought were possible. A summary of Gervaise Charles' presentation at the IBA Pro Bono and Access to Justice Committee's session in Chicago may be viewed on our website.

Since then, the International Legal Assistance Consortium (ILAC), a consortium of NGOs throughout the world providing technical legal assistance in post conflict situations, has worked tirelessly to develop a legal aid program in Haiti. There are 15 judicial districts in Haiti, including Port-au-Prince, all of which have local bar associations. ILAC has established eleven offices around the country, with 120 local employees. The coordinating office is located in Port-au-Prince. The earthquake on January 12, 2010, destroyed the Port-au-Prince legal aid facility. Fortunately, all of those who work on the legal aid project in Port-au-Prince escaped uninjured. All the other legal aid offices in Haiti remain operational.

The need for legal aid/pro bono programs during the aftermath of natural disasters is well-known in the United States, where the legal infrastructure virtually collapsed in New Orleans, Louisiana, for a short period of time, following the devastation of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Hopefully, ILAC's legal aid project can quickly "regroup" as it will clearly be needed in the coming months to deal with the legal problems that will necessarily confront Port-au-Prince's largely indigent population as they seek to recover from the loss of life and possessions.

Posted by
Patricia N Blair
IBA Pro bono and Access to Justice Committee

You may also wish to read about or donate to the IBA Appeal for the Reconstruction of the Haitian Judiciary.

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Student Support for International Pro Bono Work

We at the HOPE Public Interest Resource Center at the University of Miami School of Law are always looking for new ways to collaborate and support innovative pro bono programming. Because of my background with the UNICTR and the UNHCR, I am particularly interested in engaging students in international human rights and am very interested in exploring ways to partner with members of the International Bar Association’s Pro Bono and Access to Justice Committee, particularly in the following ways: (1) support of litigation remotely via the Pro Bono Legal Research Project and (2) HOPE Fellowship placement.

First, at the HOPE Office I manage the Pro Bono Legal Research Project (PBLRP). The PBLRP is a way to help support practitioners doing crucial work when they might not have the legal research or drafting support they need. In the past we have had students working on a number of different cases dealing with issues such as constitutional law related to housing rights, reparations for Holocaust victims, and a recent case dealing with criminal procedure that was heard by the Florida Supreme Court. The typical format has been for an attorney with a pro bono or public interest case to contact our office for research support and complete a short form. I then send an e-mail to our PBLRP students with the information to determine which students are able to provide research and have an interest in the specific topic. At that point I either connect the attorney with the interested students or, I provide the student resumes for the attorney to decide the appropriate match. After that, the HOPE office is a point of contact for the students and the attorney regarding ongoing management of the research project but the specific scheduling and content of the work product is between the students and the attorney. We have a number of students who are very keen to be involved in international litigation and would surely be thrilled to contribute to the work of the members of the IBA Pro Bono and Access to Justice Committee.

Second, at the University of Miami School of Law we have a unique HOPE Fellowship program available to students during their 1L and 2L summers. HOPE Fellows work with domestic and international public interest agencies and non-governmental organizations to provide much-needed legal advocacy. Over the years, the program has grown from two local agencies to include international placements in countries such as Sierra Leone, Tanzania, Lebanon, England, and China. The HOPE Public Interest Resource Center sponsors the program and helps students to identify agencies that match their passions for service. Students receive a stipend for their work and are required to identify ways in which they can uniquely contribute to the agencies and constituencies they serve. When they return to campus, Fellows then design a project to involve other UM Law students in advocacy related to the their area of concentration. HOPE is eager to establish relationships with organizations needing support and receptive to HOPE Fellows applications. I am happy to provide more information and learn about your organization's specific needs.

I look forward to supporting the work of the members of the IBA Pro Bono and Access to Justice Committee. Please contact me at for more information and to learn more about the HOPE Office. Additionally, I welcome ideas for further collaboration not addressed above.

Posted by
Lara O’Neill
Project Coordinator
HOPE Public Interest Resource Center
University of Miami School of Law