Rule of law, access to justice and legal aid

Kids leaning on a fance, smiling at the camera
Legal aid office in Georgia

One out of three people in the region are excluded from society, ranging from 12 percent in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia to 72 percent in Tajikistan. This can take the form of exclusion from public services, including services related to the justice system. In societies where the rule of law prevails, access to justice should be a universally enjoyed right.

The rule of law is the idea that all people and institutions, public or private, are equal before the law. It’s a simple concept that forms the basis for many of our human rights, including access to justice and accountability in public administration. But the rule of law is also a living concept, and all societies need to work to make sure that it’s protected.

Failure to uphold the rule of law leads to legal disempowerment of groups that are vulnerable to begin with, and already excluded from economic and social life.

To uplift vulnerable groups and protect their human rights, access to justice must be safeguarded. Even groups that are not otherwise marginalized could be legally disempowered by a combination of unaccountability in public institutions and lack of access to justice.

What we do

UNDP supports countries to apply the rule of law in a fair and inclusive manner, and to empower citizens to make the most effective use of protection offered by the law. We work with national partners to:

  • Develop national strategic plans and programmes for justice reform and service delivery

  • Support justice needs and capacity assessments to analyze demand and supply for services, creating a baseline for monitoring and evaluation

  • Empower the poor and marginalized to seek response and remedies for injustice

  • Improve legal protection, legal awareness, legal aid and counsel, adjudication, enforcement, and civil society and parliamentary oversight

  • Respond to immediate justice needs including the protection of the rights of people with disabilities, women's rights and access to legal services and legal aid

  • Strengthen linkages between formal and informal structures

Some results so far

In Georgia, a new Consultation Centre opened in May 2013, offering free legal assistance to the 130,000 residents of Marneuli - almost 80 percent of them national minorities. Along with other consultation centres and legal aid offices, the Marneuli centre widens access to justice in  the areas with significant minority population and in regions with high concentration of displaced persons.

Serbia used crowdsourcing to get 1,656 responses to a survey on judicial reform and access to justice in the country. The responses were used for a series of conferences with judges, prosecutors, lawyers and representatives from women’s groups, minorities and people with disabilities.

Ukraine carried out a study on what rule of law means to the people, beginning with two pilot projects in Lviv and Feodosiya. The project had the city council administration assess its own services in the problematic sector of housing, making the procedures more accountable and giving people the right to be heard.

Uzbekistan is carrying out a project on civil justice reform, to minimize cases of time-lapsed denial of justice. The project engaged the Supreme Court of Uzbekistan, establishing contact with counterparts in Malaysia and South Korea to learn their court practices and understand the legislation behind introducing modern information communication technologies into court activities.

Call to action

  1. As policymakers, establish legal aid systems to widen access to justice for disadvantaged and vulnerable groups, as well as marginalized communities and strengthen institutional capacities towards greater accountability and responsiveness

  2. As citizens, be aware of justice and legal empowerment and legal aid options in your country, and educate yourself about your rights to fully exercise the rule of law

  3. As representatives of national human rights institutions and Offices of the Ombudsperson, regularly monitor the state of the rule of law in your country and accessibility of justice for all citizens