The United Nations General Assembly has adopted the world’s first international instrument dedicated to the provision of legal aid. The new UN Principles and Guidelines on Access to Legal Aid in Criminal Justice Systems, approved on December 20, are groundbreaking: they represent some of the most progressive principles and guidelines on legal aid, that are grounded on the emerging best practices and evolving jurisprudential and normative developments around the world.
The important components recognized include:
- Prompt access to effective legal aid from the outset of police custody, through all stages of the criminal justice process;
- A right to be informed about a right to legal aid and other procedural safeguards from the moment of deprivation of liberty and before any questioning, including of the right to remain silent;
- The involvement of a range of legal aid providers including lawyers, paralegals, civil society group, and university legal clinicians and; and
- The development of a nationwide legal aid system with designated legal aid management authorities that are sufficiently staffed and resourced and are independent from undue political pressure to ensure effective and quality legal aid services delivery.
NOTE: The Street Law South Africa founder and Chairman of the Board, Prof. David McQuoid-Mason, was involved in drafting the resolution discussed in this post as well as the Lilongwe Declaration on which it was based.