Acess to Justice in International Forums

Acess to Justice in International Forums

The Office for Access to Justice serves as the U.S. Government’s central authority on access to justice. Over the last decade, international activity around access to justice has taken root in a variety of forums, such as:

Open Government Partnership

Third Open Government National Action Plan for the United States: The United States' third National Action Plan (NAP) for the Open Government Partnership, released on October 27, 2015, consisted of forty-five commitments on a wide range of actions the Administration will take over coming months to strengthen, deepen and expand upon open government efforts. As with the prior two NAPs, the Department of Justice is working on a number of initiatives, which promote the principals of open government and together will improve public services, access to information, government integrity and the administration of justice. These commitments include expanding access to justice to promote federal programs through the White House Legal Aid Interagency Roundtable.  For more information about the National Action plan, visit this DOJ blog.

United Nations

2016 UN Crime Commission Resolution:  At this year’s United Nations Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice (UN Crime Commission), the United States introduced a groundbreaking resolution promoting access to indigent defense, including through the creation of a global network of defenders.  Resolution25/2: Promoting legal aid, including through a network of legal aid providers builds on past international activity, most notably the adoption of the UN Principles and Guidelines on Access to Legal Aid in Criminal Justice Systems by the United Nations General Assembly in December 2012. The resolution promotes access to criminal legal aid, translating Sustainable Development Goal 16 on peace, security, and access to justice adopted as part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development into new tools, guidance, and political support for indigent defense providers by advancing collaboration. 

UN 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development and Global Goal 16: On September 25, 2015, the U.N. unanimously adopted the 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development (Agenda), which included 17 Global Goals to end extreme poverty. Among those goals, Global Goal 16 calls on countries to: “Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels.”  On the eve of the adoption of the Global Goals, President Obama issued a Presidential Memorandum formally establishing the White House Legal Aid Roundtable (WH-LAIR), which was conceived of and is staffed by ATJ.  More information about this momentous development can be found here. At the 2016 High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development, Director Foster moderated the Second Session on Ensuring that No One is Left Behind: Envisioning an Inclusive World in 2030.

Rule of Law Activities: In remarks on the Occasion of the 67th Session of the United Nations General Assembly’s Rule of Law High-Level Meeting, Attorney General Eric Holder noted the “the United States will continue to support UN-led efforts to expand access to legal aid.”  The United States’ voluntary pledge submitted on the occasion of that meeting noted its support for civil and criminal legal aid in activities at the United Nations and within the United States.  In May 2015, as follow-up to this activity, the United States submitted to the United Nations Office of the Secretary-General the White House Legal Aid Interagency Roundtable as a National Best Practice on the Rule of Law.

UN Principles and Guidelines on Access to Legal Aid in Criminal Justice Systems: The United Nations General Assembly adopted the first international document on indigent defense on December 20, 2012. The United Nations Principles and Guidelines on Access to Legal Aid in Criminal Justice Systems (A/RES/67/187) is the result of a multi-year effort by the United Nations, nongovernmental organizations, and member states.  It affirms that indigent defense “is an essential element of a fair, humane and efficient criminal justice system that is based on the rule of law.” The document was developed under the auspices of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) pursuant to resolution 2007/24 of the Economic and Social Council and the United States was one of 16 co-sponsors of the UN Crime Commission resolution that first adopted the document in April 2012.  On January 7, 2013, ATJ convened twenty indigent defense experts to brief them on the newly adopted document, and to seek their practical input as the UN and its member states begin to use the Principles & Guidelines to guide real-world reforms. More about this development can be read on the DOJ Blog here and here

The Johannesburg Declaration on the Implementation of the United Nations Principles and Guidelines on Access to Legal Aid in Criminal Justice Systems, Johannesburg, South Africa, June 24-26, 2014: In June 2014, the first International Conference on Criminal Legal Aid was held in Johannesburg, South Africa and sponsored  by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the United Nations Development Programme, the South African Department of Justice and Correctional Services, Legal Aid South Africa, and the International Legal Foundation.  Then Associate Attorney General Tony West delivered the keynote remarks and ATJ participated in presentations and the conference’s working group on the outcome declaration: The Johannesburg Declaration on the Implementation of the United Nations Principles and Guidelines on Access to Legal Aid in Criminal Justice Systems. Ongoing follow-up activity continues, such as the development of a Model Law on Legal Aid by UNODC, a United Nations Survey on Legal Aid, and a likely follow-up conference in the fall of 2016.

Doha Declaration, April 2015: The Thirteenth Congress on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice adopted the Doha Declaration on integrating crime prevention and criminal justice into the wider United Nations agenda to address social and economic challenges and to promote the rule of law at the national and international levels, and public participation. The declaration, adopted in April 2015, noted the importance of legal aid.

Human Rights Treaty Reporting: The United States has reported on its access to justice activities in its human rights treaty reporting, such as the Periodic Report Concerning the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (December 30, 2011)  and the Periodic Report of the United States of America to the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (June 12, 2013).  The United States also reported on its activities to strengthen legal aid and access to justice in its  Report Submitted to the U.N. High Commission for Human Rights in Conjunction with the Universal Periodic Review (February 6, 2015). 

Civil Society Consultation on Access to Justice, April 2014: In preparation for the United States’ Second Universal Periodic Review and hearing before the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, ATJ organized a Civil Society Consultation on Access to Justice in Washington, DC on April 1, 2014.

Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development

Equal Access to Justice Roundtables: In October and December 2015, ATJ participated in two expert roundtables on Equal Access to Justice organized by the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development’s (OECD) Secretariat under the auspices of OECD’s Public Governance Committee.  Follow-up activity at the OECD is currently being explored.

Organization of American States

Access to Justice Activities: In March 2013, the OAS’s Committee on Juridical and Political Affairs held a Special Meeting on the Exchange of Best Practices and Experiences with Public Defenders as a Guarantee of Access to Justice for Persons in Situations of Vulnerability, where ATJ presented on the United States experience with indigent defense. Since that time, the issue of legal aid has been taken up by the OAS, culminating in the first Technical Meeting of National Authorities on Access to Justice held in December 2014 in Cartagena, Colombia.  ATJ represented the US Government at this meeting.

In October 2015, the tenth Meeting of Ministers of Justice or Other Ministers or Attorneys General of the Americas (REMJA X) was held in Bogota, Colombia, attended by Attorney General Lynch.  The Conclusions and Recommendations of REMJA X noted the importance of access to justice and laid out opportunities for follow-up at the domestic and regional levels.

International Legal Aid Group

Biannual Meeting: ATJ represented the U.S. Government at the International Legal Aid Group’s (ILAG) 2011 biannual meeting – the first time the U.S. Government participated in an ILAG meeting since the initial one was convened in 1992. ILAG is a network of legal aid specialists including chief executives and managers from legal aid commissions, high ranking civil servants and leading academics in over two dozen countries. Its mission is to improve evidence-based policy-making in the field of poverty legal services through discussion and dialogue relating to international developments in policy and research.  By participating in these efforts, ATJ can participate in dialogue around the exchange of best practices.

International Side-Events and Panels on Access to Justice

July 13, 2016 – Pathfinders for Peaceful, Just and Inclusive Societies, New York, NY


May 24, 2016 – UN Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice Side-Event: Global Cooperation in Strengthening Access to Legal Aid, Vienna, Austria


April 25, 2016 – Breaking fences between access to justice and development, Washington, DC


February 26, 2016 – UN Event on Access to Legal Aid as a Measure of Access to Justice, New York, NY


December 4, 2015 – Hague Institute for the Internationalisation of Law (HiiL) 6th Annual Innovating Justice Forum: Cross-Sector Innovation Discussion Panel, the Hague, the Netherlands


November 13, 2015 – United Nations Side-Event: Access to Legal Aid as a Measurement of Access to Justice under Sustainable Development Goal 16.3, New York, NY


September 24, 2015 - Reception on the Eve of the UN Summit to Adopt the 2030 Agenda: Delivering on the Promise of Goal 16, New York, NY


September 24, 2015 – United Nations Side-Event: The Implications of Goal 16 for Access to Justice in the United States, New York, NY


April 24, 2015 – United Nations Side-Event: Post 2015 Shared Framework: Access to Justice, Partnerships and Means of Implementation for Sustainable Development,  New York, NY


November 13, 2014 – United Nations Side-Event: Enhancing Access to Legal Aid in Criminal Justice Systems, New York, NY


September 26, 2012 – United Nations Side-Event: Permanent Mission of the Republic of South Africa High-Level Breakfast Meeting on “Access to Criminal Legal Aid,” New York, NY


July 19, 2012 – United Nations Side-Event: Panel Discussion: Increasing Legal Aid – A Matter of Justice and Development, New York, NY