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Access to law = access to justice.


There are some innovative organizations that are implementing interesting projects around the world to improve access to law. Here are three such organizations.

International Development Research Centre (IDRC)

The International Development Research Centre (IDRC) is a Canadian Crown corporation, which was created in 1970. The IDRC has an international Board of Governors, and receives funding from and reports to the Canadian Parliament.

IDRC has an international mandate to help developing countries develop long-term, sustainable solutions to socio-economic problems, thus achieving more equitable and prosperous societies, through the use of science and technology. IDRC focuses on three main goals:

1. upholding democracy, human rights and accountable government;

2. reducing vulnerability to disease and the degradation of natural resources; and

3. increasing equitable economic growth and social services.

IDRC seeks to empower people in developing countries by generating knowledge through its support of multi-disciplinary, applied research projects. These are identified as important to the community by local researchers and institutions, who then conduct them.

IDRC'S Four Program Areas

IDRC supports these research projects by providing funding and expert advice. IDRC promotes research in four broad program areas: Environment and Natural Resource Management; Information and Communication Technologies for Development; Innovation, Policy and Science; and Social and Economic Policy. The area of Social and Economic Policy is broad, and focuses on improving social equity through developing public policies, public accountability, political inclusion, and social justice. Within this program area, IDRC has identified Women's Rights and Citizenship as one of its four key themes for the period from 2005 to 2010.

IDRC's Six Regional Offices

IDRC has established six regional offices around the world. This ensures local perspectives are included in developing IDRC's programs. These offices are located in Kenya, Senegal, Egypt, India, Singapore, and Uruguay. Each regional office provides support for researchers, and coordinates IDRC programs for the geographical region. For instance, IDRC's regional office for Southeast and East Asia is located in Singapore, and coordinates IDRC programs for 12 countries, including China, Japan, South Korea, North Korea, and Mongolia.

Women's Rights and Citizenship (WRC) Program

The Singapore/Southeast and East Asia office is involved in the Women's Rights and Citizenship (WRC) program that was introduced on April 1, 2006. Because citizenship conveys the ability to claim and exercise rights, it is key for advancing women's rights in developing countries. Also key is developing an awareness of gender rights, as well as gender discrimination and the need to eliminate it, to ensure women's equitable access to justice. In developing countries, applied research on women's rights focuses on their ability to participate in the democratic process, and their economic, sexual, and reproductive rights.

The legal systems of developing countries are the foundation for improving women's rights. Women's rights must first be incorporated into the formal laws of the country; then the government institutions that interpret and enforce the laws must promote the just and equitable application of these laws; and thirdly, the legal system (lawyers, judges, and so forth) must support the fair and equitable access to women's rights provided by the law. All three aspects must work in tandem in order to effectively advance women's rights in developing countries. For instance, if the laws have been amended to support women's rights, but the institutions do not enforce the laws, or the legal system does not promote such laws, then women do not effectively have the rights that are set out in the laws.

Consequently, IDRC supports applied research in developing countries to determine the status of the implementation of such commitments to women's rights within domestic law; to measure the actual accessibility of such equitable rights and benefits by its citizens; and to determine proposed concrete solutions or changes to public policies, institutions or practices to improve women's access to equitable laws and rights.

WRC research projects focuses on five specific aspects:

* women's citizenship and governance, which focuses on the accountability of governments to guarantee women's rights, including examining public policies and programs, and determining factors that both promote and hinder women's rights, including patriarchal power and male bias;

* access to justice, which focuses on how women can assert their rights to achieve equitable justice;

* sexual and reproductive rights, which focuses on health, safe sex, power in sexual relationships, access to safe and legal abortions, and women's rights in marriage;

* economic rights, which focuses on women's employment rights because women in these countries are usually poorly paid, unskilled, and in unregulated industries; and

* migration rights, including issues of trafficking women for forced labour or sexual exploitation.

Legal Information Institutes (LIIs)

Legal Information Institutes (LIIs) are another innovation to improve access to law. Prior to the mid-1990s, computerized legal information systems were provided by government or private sector commercial legal publishers. These services generally were expensive, required extensive training to utilize them, and were mostly used by members of legal communities.

Legal Information Institute (LII (Cornell))

Then, with the development and widespread usage of the Internet, coupled with the vision of providing free access to computerized legal information, the first Legal Information Institute (LII(Cornell) was established in 1992 at Cornell University Law School in the United States. It provided free access to databases of U.S. federal law (including the U.S. Code and U.S. Supreme Court decisions).

Australasian Legal Information Institute (AustLII)

In 1995, the Australasian Legal Information Institute (AustLII) was established as a joint project of two faculties of law in Australia (located at the University of Technology Sydney and the University of New South Wales). AustLII was developed from research on hypertext and text retrieval, and adopted the "LII" suffix used by LII(Cornell).

By 1999, AustLII developed a comprehensive national database for case law, legislation, and treaties for all nine Australian legal jurisdictions, thereby becoming the first free access legal information system to compete with commercial providers. AustLII began assisting organizations in other countries to establish their own LIIs, including: BAILII (British and Irish Legal Information Institute); PacLII (Pacific Islands Legal Information Institute); HKLII (Hong Kong

Legal Information Institute); NZLII (New Zealand Legal Information Institute); and SAFLII (Southern African Legal Information Institute).

Canadian Legal Information Institute (CanLII)

The Canadian Legal Information Institute (CanLII) was established in 2000 by the LexUM team at the University of Montreal, in Quebec. CanLII is a non-profit organization that provides legal information in a comprehensive national database through a bilingual (English-French) user interface. It is the largest provider of free access to legal information in Canada. From 2003 to 2007, LexUM also assisted other organizations to establish their own LIIs, including: Droit Francophone, Juri Burkina and Juri Niger.

Legal Information Institutes (LIIs)

The common goal of LIIs is to provide free online access to legal information through the Internet. LIIs collaborate with other LIIs through the Free Access to Law Movement (FALM). Such collaboration usually involves data-sharing networks or portals and technical networks.

Free Access to Law Movement (FALM)

FALM was established in 2002 at a Law via Internet conference in Montreal, Quebec, and represents an affiliation of LIIs. FALM is committed to providing mutual support to organizations already engaged in the provision of free access to legal information. It assists organizations in developing countries in creating their own LIIs by sharing software and technical expertise and by advising on privacy issues arising through the provision of online legal information services.

Southern African Legal Information Institute (SAFLII)

The Southern African Legal Information Institute (SAFLII) started in 2006. SAFLII provides free on-line access to the legal information of 16 countries in Southern and Eastern Africa. These include Angola, Botswana, Kenya, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Seychelles, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

SAFLII was established with various partners and funders, including AustLII. The Council of Europe, the Government of Ireland, and the Venice Commission provided grants towards SAFLII's Supreme Court of Appeal Scanning Project. This project will scan, proofread, and upload decisions of the Supreme Court of Appeal of South Africa from 1910 forward. The first stage of this project involved uploading about 3000 decisions from 1983 to 1998.

Canadian Lawyers Abroad (CLA)

Canadian Lawyers Abroad (CLA), established in 2005, is another innovative organization assisting developing countries. CLA was co-founded by Catherine McKenna and Yasmin Shaker. They both hold Master's degrees in International Relations from the London School of Economics and law degrees from McGill University in Montreal, Quebec.

CLA is involved in pro bono activities in Canada and abroad. Its mandate includes providing opportunities for Canadian lawyers and law students to take their legal skills and experience to developing countries, where they help to establish the rule of law, good governance, and human rights. CLA promotes hands-on, collaborative projects with non-government organizations (NGOs) involved in specific projects promoting one of these three main goals.

Its first pilot project involved Canadian lawyers and articling students from the law firm of Heenan Blaikie LLP, who worked with the Kosovo Law Centre to publish the country's Supreme Court Reports. By improving the quality, consistency of language and citation, and timely publication of the courts' written decisions, the project hoped to increase the transparency of the justice system, and public access to it.

CLA also administers an annual Student Summer Internship Program. It provides the opportunity for law students with a demonstrated interest in international human rights, good governance, and the rule of law, to work at NGOs in developing countries on projects related to the three main goals of CLA. These summer internships generally last six weeks to four months, and are funded by the law students themselves or through partnerships with law firms involved in such projects. Generally, students intern at the firm for about two months, followed by an overseas internship of two months.


The Canada International Development Research Centre; the Legal Information Institutes associated with the Free Access to Law Movement; and Canadian Lawyers Abroad are all working diligently on initiatives to improve the access to law in developing countries.

Connie L. Mah is a lawyer practising in Edmonton, Alberta.
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Title Annotation:Special Report: Going Global
Author:Mah, Connie L.
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Jul 1, 2009
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