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June 28, 2014

Guest post: Prof. Tom Geraghty from South Africa

by Dan Rodriguez

from my remarkable colleague, Tom Geraghty, the Class of 1967 James Haddad Professor of Law and Director of the Bluhm Legal Clinic:

Geraghty_UNODC Conference_web (2)I write from Johannesburg, South Africa, where I am attending a UNODC-sponsored International Conference on Access to Legal Aid in the Criminal Justice System. (View conference program.) In attendance are 250 advocates for the improvement of legal aid systems, including high government officials from around the world (Africa, Asia, the Middle East, U.K., Eastern Europe), leaders of NGOs, leaders of legal aid offices, and faculty from law school clinical programs. I am moderating a panel on meeting the demand for legal services in criminal justice systems and making a presentation on children’s access to legal services while in police custody.

I was invited to participate in this conference as the result of work that my colleagues, students, and I have done over the years on access to justice in developing countries. At the opening of this conference, Justice Dustan Mlambo, Judge President of the Gautang Division of the High Court of South Africa and Chairperson of the Board of Directors of Legal Aid South Africa, referenced the Lilongwe Declaration on Legal Aid (2004) as a foundational document for the recently adopted (2012) U.N. Guidelines for Access to Justice in Criminal Justice Systems. The Lilongwe Declaration, a document that students and I had a hand in drafting in 2004 in Malawi (along with Justice Mlambo, then head of Legal Aid South Africa, and Adam Stapleton, who will be visiting the Bluhm Legal Clinic this year to expand international human rights opportunities for our students), has turned out to be a foundational document for those advocating for the improvement of legal aid and an inspiration for the new U.N. Guidelines, which are truly transformative.

Our country has much to learn from international practices and particularly from the Lilongwe Declaration and the recently adopted U.N. Guidelines on Legal Aid in the Criminal Justice System. These documents set forth a comprehensive human rights-based approach to the provision of what we call public defender services, including early provision of legal assistance to children and adult suspects in police stations and special consideration for the needs of children in conflict with the law, women, vulnerable groups, as well as victims of crime and witnesses. The documents also emphasize the need to expand legal aid to those in need through the use of paralegals who can deliver many necessary services less expensively than lawyers and who are available to deliver legal aid in rural areas. Those seeking to improve the quality of indigent defense services here and abroad should use these documents as sources of a comprehensive view of the range of services that should be provided to those affected by the criminal justice systems.

Participation in international conferences, such as this week’s International Conference on Access to Justice in Criminal Justice Systems, provides our programs at the Bluhm Legal Clinic with fresh perspectives on legal practice, human rights, and the effective delivery of legal services. We use this information in our representation of our clients, especially when international standards and documents respond more concretely to real world problems in our juvenile and criminal justice systems. Collaboration with our international counterparts also gives our students opportunities to perform meaningful legal services/human rights work on the ground. And curiously, attendance at such conferences enable us to meet with our colleague in the U.S. who are doing remarkable work. An example of this was the presentation made yesterday by Seymour James of the Legal Aid Society of New York. His description of the fine work done by his office was inspiring and underscored what I view to be a priority for law reform in Cook County—improvement of the quality of services that we provide right at home. Let me add that we could learn a lot from Legal Aid, South Africa.

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