A former Law Society president today unveiled the first international principles for the funding and administration of civil legal aid. Lucy Scott-Moncrieff said the blueprint would provide a ‘starting point’ for debate on the subject, while stressing that governments bear the primary responsibility for delivering access to justice.
Two years in the making, the 27 principles were developed jointly by the IBA’s Access to Justice and Legal Aid Committee, and the Bar Issues Commission. Drawn up at a roundtable of international experts last year, they come under the headings of funding, scope and eligibility; administration; and provision.
In terms of funding, principle 1 states that legal aid service delivery generates significant social and economic benefits. ‘Contrary to the prevailing narrative that legal aid is a drain on limited resources, research shows that provision of access to justice and legal aid can prevent adverse consequences on the health, employment and well-being of individuals and their families,’ the blueprint states. ‘In their budget formulation process, governments should estimate the social and economic costs and benefits of legal aid service delivery, including by taking into account the social and economic costs of failure to deliver services.’
Nearly 95% of respondents to a consultation agreed with this principle, though one anonymous commenter stated: ‘I agree, but its chances of implementation in most states in [my country] are almost zero. There is no political consensus [here] that access to justice is a governmental responsibility. To the contrary, over the past 15 years at least there has been a concerted effort in legislatures, especially among political conservatives, to defund legal aid programs or severely restrict the services they offer.’
The new principles are among the items to be discussed at a meeting Latin American bar leaders next month.