Conference Topics

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1. UN Principles and Guidelines on Access to Legal Aid in Criminal Justice Systems:

This session will introduce the new UN Principles and Guidelines on Access to Legal Aid in Criminal Justice Systems, including the reasons for developing them and the scope of content covered. The session will then focus on the scope of legal aid as defined in the Principles and Guidelines and on the obligation of States to establish nationwide criminal legal aid systems that meet the needs of all persons who quality for legal aid.

2. Key Principles of Effective Criminal Legal Aid Delivery Systems:

This session will explore the fundamental components of effective and efficient criminal legal aid delivery systems. The structure of the two key delivery models (salaried staff lawyer/public defender systems and judicare systems) as well as mixed model approaches will be explored, with discussion centering on how these systems ensure equitable allocation of resources, the independence of the defense function, quality of representation, and cost effectiveness. This session will also look at the range of different legal aid providers, including governmental agencies, NGOs, private law firms, university clinics, and bar associations.

3. Meeting the Demand for Criminal Legal Aid Services:

In every country, there is an enormous demand for criminal defense services for the poor. This session will look at the challenges countries face in meeting this need, including lack of human or financial resources, difficulty accessing isolated communities, and difficulty in finding lawyers willing and able to handle criminal legal aid cases. Importantly, this session will offer practical solutions that can be adapted to different types of legal aid systems and at different stages of development, including utilizing non-lawyers such as law students and paralegals to assist with legal representation, advice, and/or assistance. Long-term strategies for meeting the demand for legal aid will also be addressed, including offering lawyers incentives to work in remote areas, exploring ways of growing the legal profession, and considering ways to make a career in legal aid look more attractive.

4. Ensuring High-Quality Legal Aid Services for the Poor in Criminal Cases:

Too often, when legal representation is available to the poor, it is rendered ineffective by insufficient resources, inexperienced and poorly trained lawyers, and inadequate oversight. This session will highlight initiatives aimed at improving the quality of representation available to the poor, including setting standards for ensuring uniform quality of representation and providing necessary training, mentoring, and supervision to legal aid providers. It will look at qualification and certification requirements that aim to ensure lawyers have sufficient ability, training, and experience to match the complexity of the cases they take on. Clinical legal education programs that provide real world training to law students will also be discussed.

5. Case Administration, Data Collection, and Assessing Impact:

This session will review methods for measuring the performance and impact of criminal legal aid services, funding needs, and caseloads. It will also look at how data can help identify emerging or endemic problems. Examples of effective data collection systems from countries with different levels of technological capabilities will be introduced, including case management systems, supervision systems, and client satisfaction surveys. Also discussed will be how to determine what data should be tracked; the value of performance indicators, e.g. number of clients, case processing times, court appearances, investigations performed, defense applications filed, and outcomes; and how this data should be analyzed.

6. Ensuring Equal Access to Justice For All:

This session will explore the special considerations involved in ensuring all persons face equal treatment by the justice system. In many jurisdictions people face discrimination because of gender, age, HIV status, race, ethnicity, national origin, or other socioeconomic factors. This session will look at ways to raise awareness about the rights of marginalized and socially disadvantaged persons and ensure that they are adequately protected. It will also include discussion of the reasons poor and marginalized persons face disproportionate criminal justice contact and pretrial detention, as well as the socioeconomic impact of pretrial detention, challenges in ensuring the poor and marginalized can access available legal aid services, and client-centered approaches to understanding and meeting the needs of the accused.

7. Promoting Children’s Access to Legal Representation:

Children accused of crimes are particularly vulnerable to abuse by the criminal justice system. This session will focus on the specialized legal skills, knowledge, and training required to defend children effectively. It will also look at the unique needs of children in the criminal justice system, and the imperative that they have access to qualified counsel from the time of arrest.

8. Providing Early Access to Legal Aid:

One of the keys to providing effective legal aid is ensuring access to counsel early in the criminal justice process. However, barriers such as administrative restrictions and lack of information often prevent detainees from accessing legal aid providers at this critical stage. This session will explain why early access to legal representation is necessary to ensure an effective defense, identify common barriers to early access to counsel, and highlight effective mechanisms for providing detainees with access to criminal defense services promptly after arrest or detention. A key focus of this session will be the respective roles and responsibilities of defense lawyers, police, and prosecutors during the investigative stage of the criminal process.

9. Community-Based Approaches to Legal Aid:

This session will look at community-based approaches to legal aid that focus on providing client-centered representation and addressing civil legal needs. Many poor people who are accused of crimes have issues that extend beyond the criminal case, including mental health, substance abuse, immigration, civil legal aid cases, and other concerns that underlie or complicate their involvement in the criminal justice system. This session will also explore innovative community-based strategies of legal aid delivery that promote alternatives to incarceration and pretrial diversion programs for minor or nonviolent offenses. It will also look at models for providing civil legal aid services to the poor, and legal representation or other assistance/services to victims and witnesses in the criminal justice system.

10. Financing Criminal Legal Aid Systems: Cost-effectiveness and Sustainability:

Although States employ different models for the provision of legal aid, they share the challenge of how to use their limited resources to provide effective legal aid services to all those who are eligible. This session will address governments’ obligation to adequately fund criminal defense services for the poor, and explore cost-effective approaches for delivering criminal legal aid services. Areas to be addressed include the adequacy of fees or salaries for criminal legal aid providers, the availability and sufficiency of funding for overhead and expenses, and whether funding for training should be included in a State’s legal aid budget. As States may look to coordinate their strategies and budgets for criminal and civil legal aid, issues related to funding of civil legal aid systems will also be discussed. This session will also look at tools for ensuring that a State’s legal aid budget can deliver quality legal services to all those in need, including case management and tracking of cases.

11. The International Community’s Role in Strengthening Criminal Legal Aid Systems:

This session will address the important role donors, international organizations, and NGOs play in strengthening criminal legal aid systems in developing countries and in post-conflict and fragile countries, and explore ways to improve the impact of these efforts. This session will include discussion of how to strengthen international cooperation and coordination, promote national ownership and improve local capacities, and ensure more long-term, predictable funding throughout the long process of institution building.

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