Showing posts with label access to justice. Show all posts
Showing posts with label access to justice. Show all posts

Friday, 17 September 2010

Pro Bono Initiative

In 2001, the District of Columbia Bar Pro Bono Committee established the Pro Bono Initiative (PBI) to encourage D.C.’s largest law firms to increase their pro bono activities. Law firms participating in the PBI agreed to provide pro bono legal services at specified levels and to report their progress annually. At its inception, 41 law firms signed on to the PBI which number grew to 64 firms following a D.C. Bar campaign to attract additional firms.

A report issued by the D.C. Bar Pro Bono Committee on a 2009 survey of the PBI law firms contained information on various firms’ pro bono activities, including how they budget for pro bono, training, pro bono requirements, etc. One interesting highlight of the report was that, on average, the 53 firms which had pledged to have pro bono hours account for 3.2 percent of billable hours actually contributed 5.5 percent.

The D.C. Bar Report published the survey data without drawing specific conclusions. However, it is noteworthy that, when firms committed to providing a specified level of pro bono services, they often not only met their commitment, but exceeded it. This result merits consideration in jurisdictions where debates are underway as to the wisdom of requiring attorneys to provide specified levels of pro bono services.


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

Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Courts Taking the Lead on Access to Justice

While bar associations, law schools, international aid organizations, and others have played a significant role in addressing and raising awareness of access to justice issues, courts in recent years have taken matters into their own hands. For example, in the last several years, a number of state court systems across the US have created special access to justice commissions. See examples from Wyoming (established in 2008), Maryland (established in 2008), and Tennessee (established in 2009). The commissions take different forms, but in general they are composed of representatives from law firms and law schools, community groups, and corporations who develop policies and programs for the courts around issues such as language and cultural barriers and access issues for self represented litigants. Pro bono has been a prominent topic in the work of these commissions. Indeed, the Tennessee Supreme Court has plans for a statewide pro bono summit next year to discuss pro bono issues, preview available technology, and seek input on the development of a statewide pro bono referral system. We can stay tuned for other state court systems to follow.

Posted by
Patrice Dziire
IBA Pro bono and Access to Justice Committee

Monday, 26 July 2010

Cooley Law School 10CORE Project

One positive by-product of the recessionary economy in the United States has been the emergence of innovative legal assistance programs geared to the needs of those underserved by the system. The 10CORE Project in the State of Michigan is an excellent example of such an innovative idea.

In the State of Michigan, a recent study by the State Bar found that while more than three million people qualify for free help from legal aid programs, three out of every seven who request assistance are turned away for lack of resources. This denial of legal assistance is occurring at a time when the housing market in Michigan is facing a record number of foreclosures and, not surprisingly, also a record number of mortgage/ foreclosure fraudulent schemes.

To address this issue, Professor Neville-Ewell, a former general counsel of the Detroit Housing Commission and former chairperson of the Michigan State Housing Development, started the 10CORE Project at the Cooley Law School in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The project, which is in its infancy, pairs volunteer attorneys with law students to write articles on various aspects of real estate transactions, to be published on a website for the general public. The purpose of the articles is to educate state residents on the protocols of real estate transactions in an effort to make them less likely to succumb to mortgage and foreclosure fraud.

The success of the 10CORE Project depends, in no small part, on the willingness of lawyers to devote time to the program. Because the Michigan Bar has a pro bono service requirement, there is significant optimism that the goals of the Project can be achieved. If the 10CORE Project is successful, it provides an interesting model for attacking a variety of other legal problems where education of those unable to obtain legal assistance is critical.

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

Friday, 18 June 2010

Pro bono public interest writ reveals heart-rending living conditions of widows in India

The National Commission for Women (NCW), India recently submitted its survey report to the Supreme Court of India on the neglected condition of widows living in India. The NCW conducted this survey after an order was issued by the Supreme Court of India that accepted a pro bono writ petition filed by Ravindra Bana, a senior practising counsel at the Supreme Court and Founder Director of the Environment & Consumer Protection Foundation (ECPFO).

The writ petition was filed by Ravindra Bana on behalf of ECPFO as a Public Interest Litigation, based on a newspaper report titled White Shadows of Vrindavan that highlighted the deplorable conditions of widows who are driven out of their homes after the death of their husbands to live the rest of their lives in the pilgrimage town of Vrindavan in the state of Uttar Pradesh in India. On being approached, the Supreme Court of India immediately admitted the petition and issued notices to the state and central government for their responses. In order to secure fair and detailed information about the status of these widows, the Court requested the NCW to conduct a comprehensive survey on these atrocities committed against women and to submit a report to the Court. The survey report was recently submitted after a delay and will now come up for discussion before the Court in July 2010 when the Court re-opens after its summer break.

Meanwhile, ‘The Times of India’ newspaper has provided some information about this issue, which is available here.

On a related note, the Princeton University Art Museum, New Jersey, USA, hosted an exhibition titled Beloved Daughters, which explored the lives of dispossessed widows and the challenges confronting women in India. The powerful exhibition consisted of exclusive photographs of Indian women paired with their testimony. A brief news article about the exhibition can be read on the Princeton University website.


Posted by
Anurag Bana
IBA Legal Projects Team

Thursday, 3 June 2010

Law School Clinic’s Petition Brings Relief to Puerto Rican Community

Along with the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation and the American Civil Liberties Union of Puerto Rico, the International Human Rights Law Clinic at American University Washington College of Law filed a Petition for Precautionary Measures before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the Organization of American States (“IACHR”) on behalf of residents of Villas del Sol, a community in Puerto Rico. This video, prepared by the law students and the school’s media personnel, describes the residents’ plight (English translation).

Finding that the community was on a flood plain, the local government had ordered the residents to vacate. Electric and water service had ceased. Three weeks from the scheduled eviction date, the government had not publicly identified the relocation site. Alleging violations of the American Declaration on the Rights and Duties of Man and asserting the risk of further physical harm, increased mental suffering, and possible forced eviction, and relying on some 40 affidavits collected by the law students over a single weekend, the residents petitioned the IACHR on April 28, 2010 to order the United States government immediately to take measures to:

• restore the provision of water and electricity services,
• prevent further police violence,
• end police interference in emergency medical situations,
• halt the process of forced evictions,
• ensure that the relocation process of community members be peaceful—without threat to community members' lives or homes, and
• ensure that the relocation of community members be to an area where they will have access to water and electrical services and to dwellings that are safe and inhabitable and in an area free of unreasonable police surveillance or interference.

The petition was covered widely in the media and within 24 hours, water services were restored to the community. The parties are now working toward further peaceful resolution of the matter.


Posted by
Robin Wright Westbrook
IBA Pro bono and Access to Justice Committee

Friday, 21 May 2010

The potential for pro bono legal services in the health sector in Uganda

Litigation through pro bono services has a vital role to play in addressing the gaps in the area of public health law in Uganda. Although litigation has not effectively been used to promote public health in the country, a number of opportunities exist, including article 50 (1) of the Constitution which allows any person who claims that his or her right has been violated to seek redress from court, including compensation.

In addition, article 52 of the Constitution empowers the Human Rights Commission (HRC) to ‘investigate, at its own initiative or on a complaint made by a person or group of persons against the violation of any human rights’. The HRC has established a tribunal which handles human rights complaints against both the state and individuals. However, according to the annual Report of the HRC for 2008 over 1000 complaints were handled in the tribunal but only three were relating to health rights. In an interview with the person in charge of the Health Rights Desk at the commission it was revealed that the right to health section in the commission is relatively new. Unlike cases of torture (which had majority of the cases handled in the tribunal) where the commission collaborates with Non-governmental Organizations to help in handling the technical issues of the complaints before they reach the commission, the commission has not established such a collaboration on handling health rights complaints. This means that the majority of health rights complaints do not reach the tribunal. This provides an opportunity for working with the commission to handle health rights related complaints in Uganda.

Although there are a number of organizations working on health rights in Uganda, there is no specific organization that is focusing on litigation as an advocacy strategy for health rights. Although there are also some opportunities for provision of legal aid in Uganda, the main focus of this legal aid is in other rights such as the right to property (mostly land) and not on health rights.

The Center for Health, Human Rights and Development is working on a program of work to offer pro bono services with a specific focus on the right to health. The focus of this program of work will be on exploring the possibilities of utilizing legal remedies available to redress the problems pertaining to health rights. The anticipated outcome is an increase in pro bono legal services to improve health rights and refinement of litigation strategies in those areas where precedents of legal action exist and in those where precedents have yet to be set in Uganda and the East African Region.

The complete article is available here

Posted by:
Moses Mulumba
Center for Health, Human Rights and Development
Uganda

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Simplifying Pro Bono

The Law Society of Upper Canada recently agreed to modify the standards for conflict of interest for lawyers participating in pro bono “brief” programs. The amount of time that it was taking to search and clear conflicts for lawyers volunteering at their Help Center and in their Small Claims Project was taking from 20 minutes to 3 hours. Clients were getting frustrated and law firms were being forced to drop out of the program altogether because they were being overwhelmed by the number of conflict searches required.

Denise McCourtie of the Law Society of Upper Canada provides this interesting update in the April 2010 edition of Ontario Bar Association’s official magazine Briefly Speaking.

Posted by
Robin Sully
IBA Pro bono and Access to Justice Committee

Author: Denise McCourtie
Source: Ontario Bar Association’s Briefly Speaking Magazine, April 2010

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Legal education for pro bono

Two discussions I recently had at an Italian university constituted a perspicuous proof of how much the tradition of pro bono has to do with the legal education.

What triggered my meetings with over a hundred law students was a blooming initiative of a legal clinic in the city of Turin. I was asked to introduce the concept to the future lawyers, as it is still a pioneering enterprise in the country (surprisingly enough, if you consider how much the European legal culture owes to the Romans). The approach I adopted was to explain the rationale and the challenges of the clinical adventure through the lenses of ethical dilemmas usually anticipated and often actually faced by clinical students.

The students were very enthusiastic about the clinical project and genuinely brainstormed the ethical issues. Admittedly, the first-year students interacted less but they got the message: lawyering is not (only) about books, but (also) about clients, many of whom are underprivileged in their access to justice, and it is also up to the community of lawyers to remedy the situation.

At a certain moment a professor I gave the class together with asked these fresh participants: Why did you enroll for the law studies? What are usually the reasons why an individual decides to be an avvocato? What is the viewpoint of the society at large on this? Whereas there were diverse answers to the first two questions, ranging from purely materialistic to highly missionaire, the latter issue was unequivocal to all gathered: the Italian society considers the avvocati indifferent to their service, their responsibility for the rule of law and for the access to justice to all. We received the same negative feedback on the question whether the university endeavours to sow in the students' minds and hearts the seeds of pro bono approach and, more generally, some sense of mission.

Each group of students I encountered that day, despite different studying record, was similarly immature. Their alma mater gives them only a very technical, book-oriented training, which leaves them deprived of any tools and sensitivity useful in resolving ethical issues. Often, they are not aware of the need for pro bono.

Also recently a Spanish colleague asked me how an initiative of promoting pro bono in his country can be relevant for the efforts of developing clinical programs (they have been running there for a few years). I pinpointed to the casual provision in pro bono declarations of lawyers' associations where the necessity of improving legal education is underlined (see para. 4 of the IBA Pro Bono Declaration) and argued that it must not be understood as offhand. Accordingly, I suggested that establishing cooperation between abogados and the academia is natural and should be fruitful to both. Fortunately, I have met quite some Italians who believe it as well.

Posted by
Jacek Kowalewski
University of Warsaw graduate
Pro bono activist in Poland and Italy

Monday, 15 March 2010

Legal aid funding and the financial crisis

In December 2009, the District of Columbia Access to Justice Commission and the D.C. Consortium of Legal Service Providers issued a report that reflected the negative effect the financial crisis has had on the funding of legal aid programs in the DC.
Among other things, the report revealed a 60 percent drop in Interest on Lawyers’ Trust Accounts (IOLTA), which is an important source of funding for legal aid; a 20 percent drop in local government funding support for legal services; and a decrease of more than $1 million in charitable donations and volunteer services. As a result, 21 lawyers working for legal aid organizations along with 30 non lawyers had to be laid off. At the same time these cuts were being made, the demand for legal assistance increased by 20 percent.

The DC experience is mirrored in Connecticut, which has traditionally also been largely dependent on IOLTA accounts to provide funds for its legal service organizations. One Connecticut legal service organization avoided layoffs by its staff of lawyers and non lawyers agreeing to a 20 percent reduction in salaries and a 4 day work week.

The IBA Pro Bono and Access to Justice Committee, the IBA Bar Issues Commission, and the IBA Forum for Barristers and Advocates will be co-presenting a session at the IBA Annual Conference in Vancouver, 3-8 October 2010, that will explore the issue of legal aid funding, including the ramifications when governments fail to provide adequate funding for legal aid programs.

We doubt that DC and Connecticut are unique in suffering these problems and would welcome further examples from other jurisdictions in order further to inform our Vancouver discussions.

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

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

A revolution in legal aid -- obligatory legal assistance bill in Israel

A new bill, under which the Israel Bar Association will be obligated to provide legal assistance to under-privileged populations, was approved by the Knesset in late November 2009.

Initiated by the President of the Israel Bar, Adv. Yori Geiron, and Knesset-Member, Yariv Levin, the new law made the current non-obligatory function of providing legal assistance to deprived populations, into an obligatory one. The bill gained the support of a large number of Knesset members, wanting to ensure that access to the justice system will be available to all people, regardless of their financial means.

This is an important precedent for the Israel Bar, as for the first time, it is the Bar itself which undertakes to provide legal services to the public, a project which is fully sponsored by the Bar.

It is important to note, however, that the new law does not require each lawyer to take on pro bono work, but it is an obligation of the Bar itself, through its volunteer lawyers.

The law will become effective over the next few months, once rules determining eligibility for such legal assistance by the Bar will be adopted.

President Yori Geiron: 'Practicing law is not just a profession, it is a social responsibility, and one of its missions is to increase access to the justice system, as a basic right. It is with this in mind, and after a continuing debate within the Bar, that the Bar was able to operate its pro bono program, "Schar Mitzva", for the past 7 years, providing legal assistance to under-privileged people across the country, with over 2,500 volunteer lawyers. This is an essential project, which provides legal assistance and full representation to thousands of people each year.'

Knesset-Member Yariv Levin: 'This bill is an important stage in the efforts to empower under-privileged populations and help many to break out of the circle of poverty. Using the legal advice provided to them, many people could fight for what they are legally entitled to and protect themselves, against suits filed against them. This way, those people will be able to break out of the circle of poverty. At the same time, this will prevent court decisions, obligating those people to pay enormous amounts, simply due to the fact that they were not represented in court, thereby, sending them back to the circle of poverty.'

Posted by Adv. Dikla Elkabets
Israel Bar Association

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.

Monday, 7 December 2009

About My Office

Osun State is located in the south-west part of Nigeria.

It covers an area of approximately 14.875 square kilometers, lies between longitude 04 00E and latitude 05.558 and is bounded by four (4) other states i.e Ogun, Kwara, Oyo and Ondo States in the South, North, West and East respectively.

The people of the State are composed of Yoruba tribe. However non-indigenes from all parts of Nigeria and foreigners reside in the State, living together in harmony.

A reasonable segment of the populace comprises traders and artisans. The State has 31 Local Government Councils with Osogbo as the State Capital.

In December 2008 the Governor of Osun State in his Budget speech created the Office of the Public Defender and Citizens Rights and I was appointed as the pioneering director in March 2009. Five months later four additional lawyers were appointed to the Office. All of them are below 5 years at the Bar.

In order for us to function effectively a law was proposed and drafted by me and approved for the House of Assembly's deliberation and passage.

The Office has power of corporate personally and its main functions among others is to provide free legal services to the indigent people of the State and embed the culture of providing legal representation on a pro-bono basis with the legal profession in the state and provide ready means of assistance to less privileged.

The Office is to institutionalize mediation, reconciliation, conciliation and alternative dispute resolution in the administration of Justice in the State by ensuring that parties enter into ADR processes voluntarily.

The office has the status of an agency under the Ministry of Justice and is situated at the Government Secretariat Osogbo the capital city of the State.

However, it can be said that the world economic situation has seriously affected the takeoff of the office since its establishment.

Already we have received over 50 complaints from the general public on disputes such as landlord and tenant, employer and employee, domestic violence and family inheritance, debt recovery, accident at work, domestic accidents, fatal accidents, breach of agreements, human rights etc.

However only about five cases of these disputes have been successfully handled by my office. The reasons are not farfetched.

Firstly, the manpower is limited i.e only five lawyers are appointed to service the whole State of 31 Local Government Councils.

Secondly there are no enough infrastructure for counsel to work. We have not been able to attend any of the cases outside the state capital because there is no official vehicle to embark on such trip. Office equipment are also not adequate.

Thirdly, I am the only person in the office who has a reasonable experience and training in pro-bono and ADR work. Other lawyers are very young at the Bar with no experience in this field.

The above scenario is generating disenchantment and lack of interest in the lawyers and thereby making the generality of the people in the State to lose hope and confidence in the office.

A CASE STUDY

One Mrs. 'A', a 32yr old mother of three, came to our office to report her husband a police officer who abandoned her and three children without care and support. My office wrote to the officer who had been transferred out of the State. A copy of the letter was sent to the Boss; a Divisional Police Officer (DPO) demanding that the officer should come to a meeting in our office. At the meeting he was advised to pay monthly living allowance to the three children out of his monthly salary. An agreement was mutually entered into by the parties and a legal agreement was drafted in that respect. The officer paid three months installment before he was transferred to Ondo State. Since he left for Ondo State three months ago, he has failed to pay the monthly allowance to his three children. Now we have difficulty in reaching him in his new place of posting which is about four hours drive to Osogbo, the State capital.

Also in a related development, Mrs. 'F', a widow of seven children, is yet to receive her husband's entitlement from Nigerian Custom Services, a Federal Government establishment 6 years after her husband’s death. The law establishing the agency requires that the head office should be at the capital of the country, Abuja. A letter of demand to the agency on behalf of the widow was ignored. Litigation on behalf of the widow will cost so much and my office is yet to be funded. Meanwhile the widow and seven children are languishing in abject poverty.

That is the typical situation of my office.

Posted by
Toyin Adegoke
IBA Pro bono and Access to Justice Committee

Friday, 13 November 2009

Dubai International Financial Centre Pro Bono

The following has just appeared on the news wires: The new pro bono system in the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) Courts -- the DIFC's independent, common law judicial system tribunal and the first of its kind in the Middle East -- will be tested for the first time shortly in an employment case.

After a period of public consultation, the guidelines for the DIFC's pro bono programme took effect last month and the scheme immediately attracted interest from the legal community with seven law firms having already registered their voluntary services. To date, five pro bono litigant applications have been filed at the DIFC Courts. The first pro bono case will be heard in the Court of First Instance, most likely before the end of the year.

The IBA Pro Bono and Access to Justice Committee were consulted on the preparation of the guidelines and were pleased to be able to contribute to the establishment of this new venture. Very few similar systems have been introduced across the globe (the US Immigration Court system has one, as does the US Tax Court, and we would welcome news of any others) and it will be interesting to see, therefore, how it develops. Perhaps it will also provide a boost to the provision of pro bono elsewhere in the Emirates, the GCC and the Middle East as a whole?

Posted by
IBA Pro bono and Access to Justice Committee

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Access to justice in the Rural Philippines

Attorney Angelito Orozco is chief legal counsel of the local government of Olongapo City in Central Luzon, Philippines, and describes that office’s work for poor clients there as follows:

It is an integral part of my job to provide mediation/arbitration, albeit in an informal way, especially to poor clients who cannot afford costly and lengthy formal litigation. Their cases would range from simple collection of small money claims, grievances against neighbors or employees of the city government, family matters, and the like. We also dispense legal advice on matters involving eviction/ejectment, petty crimes, annulment of marriage, adoption of minors, and the like.

Further, we coordinate with the Bureau of Jail Management and the regular courts for visits to detention prisoners to ensure that their basic constitutional rights and right to Speedy Trial Act are being observed; otherwise, such can be a ground for the dismissal of their cases. Lastly, we also provide legal representation to indigent clients but on a limited number and basis at this point, owing to financial and time constraints.

Posted by
Robin Westbrook
IBA Pro bono and Access to Justice Committee

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Pro bono in South Africa

During 2002, the members of the Cape Law Society (including attorneys in the Eastern, Northern and Western Cape), unanimously adopted a resolution giving rise to a rule obliging all practising lawyers (with one or two exceptions) to render a minimum of 24 hours pro bono service to those who cannot afford to pay legal fees.

Following this, the Cape Law Society concluded joint venture agreements (and continues to do so) with NGOs serving the poor who required free legal assistance on behalf of the people they serve or, in certain circumstances, assistance to the NGOs itself.

The law societies with jurisdiction in other provinces in South Africa (the Free State Law Society, Law Society of the Northern Provinces and KwaZulu Natal Law Society) all adopted similar rules, with KwaZulu Natal being the last province to consider whether or not the rule should be made obligatory.

The provincial law societies have all appointed provincial co-ordinators, and the Law Society of South Africa has appointed a national co-ordinator to facilitate the process of pro bono nationally. We are currently working towards convening a national conference with the view to establishing a rule to set in place national norms and standards for pro bono.

Edward Nathan Sonnenbergs ('ENS') is the largest law firm in Africa, with offices in Cape Town, Gauteng (Johannesburg) and KwaZulu Natal (Durban). ENS is currently the only firm in South Africa to establish dedicated pro bono offices.

Its first pro bono office is in the township called Mitchell's Plain, an impoverished area in the Western Cape, where ENS renders services to the communities of Khayelitsha and Mitchell's Plain.

Its second dedicated pro bono office is in the township of Alexandra in Gauteng, with the aim of bridging the historical divide that exists between suburbs such as Alex and Sandton, two very different worlds.

Both offices are managed by qualified lawyers, and every professional of the firm dedicates 32 hours per year rendering services to the poor on their doorstep, rather than expecting them to find their (often impossible) way to Cape Town or Sandton.


Posted by
Taswell Papier
IBA Pro bono and Access to Justice Committee

Friday, 17 July 2009

Lawyers as society's self-regulating guardians of justice

Commentators such as David Fagelson* derive the obligation to provide legal service pro bono from attorneys' central role in the justice system. Justice is a fundamental social value, and equality before the law is its key element.

For a person to participate in a complex, adversarial justice system, a lawyer's expertise is indispensable. The state acknowledges and enables this expertise with various entitlements: most significantly, a monopoly, which lawyers themselves regulate, on the practice of law and on access to courts. Monopoly pricing is deemed to result, and pro bono service is deemed an appropriate acknowledgment of the power to price services beyond the reach of many. Some observe, perhaps more philosophically, that the self-regulation which secures the monopoly - the ability to determine who can join the club - itself secures important social values.

Thus, an independent, self-regulating legal profession, free to admit members of its own choosing who can exercise their profession without government direction, best preserves the rule of law. As society's self-regulating guardians of justice, lawyers are best positioned to secure its fundamental value of equality of all before the law and to work toward universal access.

While this may seem rather lofty, consider recent developments in Fiji where, as of June 30, all lawyers must apply for a Practicing Certificate from the newly-installed, military-backed regime, which moved the licensing of lawyers from the law society to an army-appointed major.** A lawyer was prevented from delivering a speech to the Fiji Institute of Accountants Congress, scheduled for June 12, 2009, due to its discussion of Fiji’s political and financial crisis and the impact of the recent coup on human rights. Download the text of his speech here [PDF file].

Against this backdrop, a correlation between lawyers' autonomy and an ethical obligation to further access to justice does not seem extreme.

Posted by Robin Westbrook
IBA Pro bono and Access to Justice Committee


* 'Rights and Duties: The Ethical Obligation to Serve the Poor', 17 Law and Inequality: A Journal of Theory & Practice 171, Winter 1999.
** Rowan Callick, 'Fiji's military-led judiciary no paradise for business', The Australian, 5 June 2009, http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/business/story/0,28124,25588281-36418,00.html, accessed 17 July 2009.

Monday, 15 June 2009

Day Laborer Wage Clinic redresses abuse of immigrant employment rights

A legal services organization in the United States encountered a serious access to justice issue involving its immigrant population. The legal aid attorneys discovered that there was a street in a major city where immigrants gathered daily to be "picked up" in trucks by employers to do landscaping, construction work and housekeeping chores.

In spite of the fact that United States laws require employers to pay at least a minimum wage regardless of whether a worker is in the country legally, employers often refused to pay these day laborers the wages they had earned. Due to a combination of factors, including ignorance of their legal rights and fear of threatened deportation if they complained, many of these immigrants simply did nothing and allowed their employers to benefit from their work, without having to pay for it.

In response to this gross inequity, the legal service organization opened a Day Laborer Wage Clinic and called upon the local bar association for assistance in staffing it. With the help of volunteers, pro bono lawyers and paralegals, the Clinic is open one night a week where immigrants, primarily non-English speaking, can come without any appointment for assistance in enforcing their employment rights and in obtaining the wages illegally withheld by their employers.

Employers are quickly learning of the existence of the Day Laborer Wage Clinic and that its legal aid and pro bono attorneys, paralegals, and interpreters will not tolerate the abuse of immigrant employment rights.


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

Monday, 1 June 2009

A contribution of thoughts in regard to some shortcomings in relation to translation and interpretation

Assurances that the principle of equality of arms is upheld in criminal proceedings in other jurisdictions than our own is fundamental for common trust. Based on the Swedish experience, an important source of problem in mutual recognition-based cooperation is the lack of sufficient guarantees of procedural rights in domestic systems. Deficiencies of this kind in many national systems and the lack of common minimum procedural standards regarding the protection of individual rights in criminal proceedings give rise to hesitation and lack of a sufficient basis for mutual trust and recognition.

Already in 2004 the European Commission, within its draft Framework decision on certain procedural rights applying in criminal matters throughout the European Union, therefore put focus inter alia on the access to interpretation and translation. The reason was quite simple; a suspect must know and be able to understand the suspicions and charges raised against him or her. Notwithstanding that this must be considered as a “basic right” common for every country based on the rule of law, the work of a common understanding within the European Union on the importance and need of translation and interpretation was buried for many years of political reasons.

Recently, however, the The Council of Bars and Law Societies of Europe (CCBE) has published a manifesto calling for ‘The right kind of justice for Europe’ in the light of the current drafting of the next five-year Strategic Agenda for Freedom, Security and Justice in the European Union, the so-called ‘Stockholm programme’.

One of the central parts of this Manifesto is the need for introduction of minimum common procedural safeguards for the right of suspects and defendants in criminal proceedings. One of the fundaments of these minimum procedural safeguards is access to free interpretation and translation, ensuring that persons, including relatives of the suspect, who are not capable of understanding or following the proceedings receive appropriate means for this.

Today there is not only lack of a minimum procedural right in respect of translation and interpretation in Europe and elsewhere. It is also, when such interpretation and translation can be disposed, often a questionable quality of the translation or interpretation services rendered. Furthermore, the defence counsels often have to bear the costs of interpretation and translation. In many countries this is a cost paid by the state only in case of acquittal. Hence, lawyers often bear the economic risk of having their clients’ justified legal interest and rights provided for. Pro bono work becomes a prerequisite of the fulfilment of minimum procedural rights.

Obviously, this must change. The CCBE Manifesto is a good start and my sincere hope and belief is that the Swedish Presidency of the European Union for the second half of 2009 succeeds in its declared efforts to pull a legislation on the right of interpretation and translation through the European legislative mills.

Let us at least have common minimum rights on the suspect’s understanding of the suspicion, and let it be at the expense of the states and not the lawyers.


Posted by Anne Ramberg
Secretary General of the Swedish Bar Association
IBA Pro bono and Access to Justice Committee

Opening the courthouse doors

Courts can facilitate access by litigants who do not have counsel, paid or pro bono. They might provide simplified procedures, translation services, and, as in the case of the U.S. Tax Court, videos on how a pro se litigant can proceed. The Court expects to start mailing DVDs of the video shortly to unrepresented taxpayers.

What other steps can courts take to accommodate unrepresented litigants? In what situations are these measures most appropriate? What are opposing counsel’s duties and concerns in such a case? Does it matter if opposing counsel represents the government?

Posted by Robin Westbrook
IBA Pro bono and Access to Justice Committee