From November 15-17, 2016, the International Legal Foundation co-hosted the Second International Conference on Access to Legal Aid in Criminal Justice Systems in Buenos Aires, Argentina, which was also hosted by the Government of Argentina, the Office of the Federal Public Defender of Argentina, the United Nations Development Programme, and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.
This conference, which the ILF played a driving role in planning and implementing, had one overarching goal: to address the global crisis in access to legal aid for the poor and vulnerable. It worked to achieve this goal by bringing together over 200 legal aid service providers, civil society experts, and government officials from over 50 diverse countries around the world to discuss common challenges, good practices, and practical and achievable solutions in providing access to effective legal aid in criminal justice systems.
Two major initiatives were also launched at the conference: the world’s first International Legal Aid Network, a forum intended to inform, support, and empower legal aid providers around the world; and a campaign to address discrimination in the administration of justice.
As an organization dedicated to increasing access to justice for the most vulnerable, the ILF is deeply concerned about the discriminatory and disparate impact that criminal justice policies and practices have on poor and minority communities worldwide. To address this issue, we are teaching lawyers in post-conflict and transitional countries around the world to engage in strategic litigation. The Argentina conference helped us work toward this goal by bringing together under-resourced legal aid providers from post-conflict countries such as Myanmar, Nepal, Haiti, and Liberia with providers from more developed legal aid systems to engage in learning and exchange. We are also engaging in advocacy to bring attention to the fact that criminal justice systems worldwide are targeting communities based on their race, ethnicity, gender or because they are poor or otherwise deemed undesirable. To learn more about the ILF’s campaign, please see this short video and join the conversation.
The ILF is proud to have pioneered forums for international exchange and action on the global crisis in access to legal aid. We spearheaded the first International Conference on Access to Legal Aid in Criminal Justice Systems, held in Johannesburg in 2014, and look forward to helping establish these conferences as a biannual event hosted by different countries. This first conference succeeded in focusing global attention at the highest levels of government on the crisis in criminal legal aid. In the wake of the conference, many participants reported that their countries began to take steps to draft and implement laws which provide for access to legal representation for the indigent accused. For example, as a direct result of the conference, a member of the bills committee of Parliament (who attended the conference along with the Attorney General and members of civil society) introduced a legal aid bill for the first time in Myanmar’s history. In early 2016, this legal aid law was adopted.
We look forward to continuing to assist countries establish effective legal aid systems following the Argentina conference, including through the launch of the International Legal Aid Network. To learn more about the Argentina conference, visit balegalaid.com, where you can watch video from the conference and access the outcome document which includes a specific call to action.