ILF Hosts UN General Assembly Side Event on Access to Legal Aid

On Wednesday, September 26, 2012, the International Legal Foundation co-hosted a high-level side event along with the Republic of South Africa and the UN Office on Drugs and Crime on “Access to Legal Aid in Criminal Justice Systems.”

The panelists provided commentary about their countries’ strategies and challenges in providing effective and efficient criminal legal aid for the indigent. Speaking on the trajectory of legal aid over the past fifty years, US Acting Associate Attorney General West discussed the obstacles to access to justice that still exist in the United States despite significant progress. He voiced strong support for the UN Principles and Guidelines on Access to Legal Aid in Criminal Justice Systems, stating that the “standards affirm that criminal legal aid is an essential element of a fair, humane and efficient criminal justice system that is based on the rule of law.” Judge President Mlambo of the South African Labour Appeals Court echoed the sentiment that legal aid is essential to the concept of rule of law, and highlighted the South African government’s prioritization of legal aid, which has made the country a point of reference for developing countries. Georgian Deputy Foreign Minister Kapanadze also expressed hope that the UN Principles and Guidelines would motivate other countries to prioritize legal aid.

ILF Executive Director Natalie Rea spoke about how practically steps, at little cost to the government, can go a long way to lower excessive pretrial detention, reduce torture, and combat corruption. She particularly emphasized the importance of removing administrative barriers to early access to lawyers for poor people accused of crimes. Judge Mlambo commended the role of the NGO sector, particularly organizations like the International Legal Foundation, in ensuring that access to legal aid remains a priority.

Following the speeches, attendees and panelists exchanged insightful comments and questions on concrete matters such as the early stages of developing a legal aid system in a post-conflict setting, how to effectively collaborate with NGOs to provide legal aid services, and how to create and fund a legal aid delivery scheme that delivers the most impact with limited resources. The ILF looks forward to continuing to work with states and international organizations like UNODC to provide more effective criminal legal aid services for the poor.

Mr. Jeffrey Radebe, South Africa’s Minister of Justice and Constitution (video)
Mr. John Sandage, UN Office on Drugs and Crime’s Director of Division for Treaty Affairs (video)
Mr. Sergi Kapanadze, Georgia’s Deputy Foreign Minister (video)
Judge Dunstan Mlambo, Judge President of the Labour Appeal Court of South Africa and Chairperson of Legal Aid South Africa (video)
Ms. Natalie Rea, the ILF’s Executive Director (video)

Mr. Tony West, Acting Associate Attorney General for the United States (video)

Mr. Stephen Mathias, UN Assistant Secretary-General for Legal Affairs

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