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July 5, 2008

Access to Justice is the Key to Advancing the Rule of Law, Experts at World Justice Forum Agree

Left to right: David V. Williams, University of Auckland; Cherie Booth Blair, Queens Counsel; William K. Slate, American Arbitration Association; Yash Ghai, U.N. Development Programme; Hannah Irfan, Legal Consultant, Pakistan; and Bernard Amyot, Canadian Bar Association

Left to right: David V. Williams, University of Auckland; Cherie Booth Blair, Queens Counsel; William K. Slate, American Arbitration Association; Yash Ghai, U.N. Development Programme; Hannah Irfan, Legal Consultant, Pakistan; and Bernard Amyot, Canadian Bar Association

“True justice requires true access.”

That remark, as part of a presentation by panelist Bernard Amyot, president of the Canadian Bar Association, fairly summarizes the main point of a session on Access to Justice held as part of the opening day of the World Justice Forum. In individual presentations that offered specific viewpoints on the topic, panelists hewed to a common theme that people across the globe must have unfettered access to justice and the justice system if humanity is to live in an equitable world.

Moderated by Yash Ghai, head of the United Nations’ Constitution Advisory Support Unit in Nepal, the panel included Cherie Booth Blair QC, a leading London barrister and wife of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair; Hannah Irfan, legal consultant and member of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan; William Slate, president and CEO of the American Arbitration Association; and, David Williams, professor of law at the University of Auckland, New Zealand, along with Amyot.

Irfan spoke about the plight of women in her native Pakistan, where violence against women takes many forms, including so-called “honor killings.” She detailed the impact of religion and culture on society’s, and the Pakistani legal system’s, treatment of women, noting that it left women in the position of feeling “weak and helpless.” She explained that, even in rare cases where women pursue perpetrators of violence in court, local tribunals that may hear the matter are made up of all men who are untrained in jurisprudence and whose roots in a patriarchal society lead them to treat women “as commodities.”

David Williams’ approach to access to justice explored the plight of the indigenous people, noting that such people have “historical grievances” with the justice system and that policies of genocide have led to such natives ending up in distinct minorities in their ancestral homelands. He also noted a long history of inequitable treaties with indigenous people and related a sordid history of land dispossessions that have had a lasting effect on the Maoris of his native New Zealand.

A worldwide crisis in the provision of legal aid services to those in need was the centerpiece of Booth Blair’s presentation in which she noted that there must not only be “courts for everyone” but people also need to understand that they have access to those courts. She also spoke of the dramatic increases in Britain’s legal aid budget, now in the billions, but cautioned that spending more money doesn’t mean that the problem has been solved. She urged that the delivery of legal service be expanded in order to protect the basic rights of citizens.

Amyot also included the need for legal aid in his three key issues surrounding the Rule of Law in Canada, saying that the system there was “in crisis.” He also focused on the right to due process, noting the case of a Canadian citizen who remains in custody in the U.S. prison facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba and whose repatriation is sought by many in the Canadian legal and human rights communities. Finally, he noted the need to enhance the Rule of Law globally, not just in isolated countries around the world.

Calling the “lack of justice a threat to the machinery of society,” Slate took a businessperson’s vantage point on the Rule of Law. He noted that his specialty of arbitration had a definite impact on access to justice when applied to such controversies as labor/management disputes or wrangles over investment treaties. He recommended that, when it comes to the arena of commerce, access to justice would be best achieved by focusing on the related processes of grievance and remediation, noting that fair and equitable international commerce leads to international stability but added that the human rights aspects of the Rule of Law should take precedence.

Learn More About:  World Justice Project