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.
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.