The International Bar Association (IBA) is an organisation of legal practitioners, bar associations and law societies whose mission is to provide assistance to the global legal community with the aim of influencing the development of law reform and promoting the highest professional standards and the rule of law throughout the world. As part of that mission, the IBA Access to Justice and Legal Aid Committee (‘the Committee’), formed in 2013, has undertaken its first research project, ‘International Access to Justice: Barriers and Solutions’, which is the subject of this report. The Bingham Centre for the Rule of Law conducted the research and wrote this report with contributions and comments from the Committee at different stages.

This report explores obstacles to achieving access to justice across jurisdictions and practices that have sought to overcome these barriers. Access to justice is fundamental to establishing and maintaining the rule of law. It enables people to have their voices heard and to exercise their legal rights, whether those rights derive from constitutions, statutes, the common law or international instruments. Access to justice is an indispensable factor in promoting empowerment, in securing access to equal human dignity and achieving social and economic development. It is almost certain to be included in the forthcoming United Nations (UN) post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals.

This report adopts a comprehensive concept of access to justice, which covers different stages of the process of obtaining a solution to civil or criminal justice problems. It starts with the existence of rights enshrined in laws and with awareness and understanding of such rights. It embraces access to dispute resolution mechanisms as part of justice institutions that are both formal (ie, institutions established by the state) and informal (eg, indigenous courts, councils of elders and similar traditional or religious authorities, mediation and arbitration). Effective access includes the availability of, and access to, counsel and representation. It also encompasses the ability of such mechanisms to provide fair, impartial and enforceable solutions.

Accordingly, while acknowledging the fundamental importance of lawyers and courts in ensuring access to justice, this report adopts a broader approach when thinking about barriers and solutions. Barriers originate from within and from outside formal justice institutions. The strategies that ensure and improve access to justice for communities and individuals engage groups from across the full spectrum of civil society and the state. The legal community is well placed to contribute strongly, not only in formal legal frameworks, but beyond those into multi-stakeholder and interdisciplinary initiatives.

This report is divided into three sections. Each section addresses groups of barriers to access to justice and related examples of projects and best practice adopted to surmount these barriers.

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