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Director Rachel Rossi of the Office for Access to Justice Delivers Remarks at the Summit for Democracy’s Advancing People-Centered Justice and Rule of Law Panel


Washington, DC
United States

Remarks as Prepared for Delivery

Thank you Ro for that kind introduction.

On behalf of the Department of Justice, I am pleased to welcome you to this event on advancing people-centered justice, the rule of law and democracy. A huge thank you to our colleagues at USAID for organizing this event. It is a pleasure and honor to be here with Deputy Administrator Isobel Coleman, our esteemed panelists, and Maha Jweied, who paved the way as a former leader of the Office for Access to Justice.

Thank you to the Dominican Republic and Kosovo for heading the Summit for Democracy Cohort on People Centered-Justice and Ambassador Guzmán who was with us earlier today.  As my father was born in Santo Domingo and I’m headed there next week to see family, it is so inspiring to see your leadership on access to justice issues.

The Office for Access to Justice works to ensure that all communities have access to the promises and protections of our legal systems and government—that justice does not depend on your income, age, gender, status, identity, ability or the language you speak.

Our office serves as the central authority on access to justice before international organizations, including the United Nations and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. We also lead the U.S. government’s effort to implement UN Sustainable Development Goal 16 on promoting peaceful and inclusive societies, ensuring equal access to justice for all, and building transparent institutions.

So what does it mean to pursue the rule of law and to strengthen democracy through people-centered justice?

Respect for the rule of law is a fundamental pillar to ensure strong democracies around the world. It bounds democracies together by universal principles of due process, fairness, dignity, and equality. But when communities do not equally experience the protections promised by government and our laws, it creates a lack of trust and erodes the strength of the rule of law. It also undermines our collective safety and security.

A people-centered approach starts with humility, and an acknowledgement that these structural inequities exist. Indeed, our legal systems have failed too many people. And it requires consistent centering of the voices of the people, particularly the voices of historically underserved and marginalized communities.

For example, in the U.S., some studies have shown that up to 55% of people who come into contact with the criminal justice system end up back in the system again. In developing policy solutions to reduce this cycle, the Office for Access to Justice worked with people who had previously been incarcerated to host a reentry simulation for officials from across the U.S. government.

This simulation allowed government leadership to better understand the complex barriers faced by people who have a criminal conviction, including in obtaining employment and education and in accessing basic needs like housing, healthcare and food security, hurdles that frequently cycle people back into the criminal justice system.

Our office also prioritized people centered approaches through the White House Legal Aid Interagency Roundtable. We direct and staff the Roundtable – a collaboration of 28 U.S. federal agencies to pursue access to justice across government, co-chaired by Attorney General Garland and White House Counsel Stuart Delery. The Roundtable just last week released our 2022 report focused on the simplification of government forms, processes, and language so that all people can more easily access federal resources. Most importantly, the report creates a roadmap to simplifying access that starts with understanding community experiences, needs and barriers, and then proposes the development of simplification efforts directly informed by that feedback.

And most recently, the Department of Justice celebrated 60 years since the U.S. Supreme Court decision recognizing the right to counsel in criminal cases, Gideon v. Wainwright, by launching a country-wide tour to hear from those on the ground doing the work of making that right a reality. High-level Justice Department officials joined me in visits with public defenders, impacted communities and advocates across the United States, from urban cities, to southern, midwestern, tribal and rural areas. We heard about barriers to ensuring effective access to legal aid and announced a number of actions in response.

When we trust the experiences of the communities we serve, solicit their ideas and carefully tailor responsive strategies, we can form honest and empowering partnerships and invest together in lasting solutions. And this builds trust in government, confidence in the rule of law, and more resilient democratic governance.

We know that much more must be done to expand people-centered justice. And we welcome opportunities to learn from our global partners, because we frequently face the same challenges. To further our collaboration with like-minded partners in pursuit of these goals, we are pleased that the United States will join the Justice Action Coalition, which is a group of like-minded governments and partners working together to champion equal access to justice for all. The Department of Justice will support membership of the United States in the Coalition, including by offering U.S. best practices and engagement with partners.

I also look forward to traveling soon to Ghana with the Justice Department’s Office of Overseas Prosecutorial Development Assistance and Training to learn more about U.S. assistance to Ghana’s Legal Aid Commission. We will use this visit to consider additional types of support for — and partnership — with Ghana to examine legal defense issues globally.

Our continued work in this area requires collaboration from the many stakeholders with us today. In sharing the examples I’ve highlighted, I hope we can inspire further change and learn from others.

This sentiment was echoed in President Biden’s 2022 National Security Strategy, which states, “Our democracy is a work in progress—and by reckoning with and remedying our own shortcomings, we can inspire others around the world to do the same.” We all have a stake in transforming our society and building fairer and more just democracies here at home and abroad.

Thank you again for this opportunity to join you. Now, I’m happy to welcome Deputy Administrator Colemen.  

Access to Justice
Updated March 28, 2023