Better legal aid access for the criminal justice system

Challenges in implementing the right to legal aid for the poor was under the spotlight at the International Conference on Access to Legal Aid in the Criminal Justice System at Birchwood Hotel, Boksburg recently.

The department, in partnership with Legal Aid South Africa, International Legal Foundation, United Nations Development Programme and United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime hosted a three-day conference from 24-26 June 2014, aimed at addressing the global challenges in ensuring access to quality criminal legal aid services for the poor.

The conference furthermore sought to promote and publicise the recently developed United Nations Principles and Guidelines on Access to Legal Aid in the Criminal Justice System.

Ms Jennifer Smith, an Executive Director of the International Legal Foundation mentioned that the United Nations guidelines and principles outlined key standards and contained detailed guidance on providing effective criminal defence services.

Delivering his keynote address, Justice and Correctional Services Minister, Advocate Michael Masutha said the discussions reflected on the Bill of Rights, the state of legal rights and delegates, and came up with practical and tangible ways of providing quality legal representation for the poor.

“Our legal system is there for the vulnerable and underprivileged. Legal practitioners should meet from time to time to learn from the best practices on how to offer good quality legal representation to those who cannot afford it,” remarked the minister.
Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng echoed the minister’s sentiments, saying that it is a right of the underprivileged to have legal representation in court, “but of most important, the representative should provide quality legal representation.”

He added that well trained and experienced lawyers, whether on a pro-bono basis or not, need to provide quality legal representation to those who cannot fend for themselves. “I am confident in the diversity of delegates present here in this conference and believe that they will devise effective strategies in strengthening the justice system,” concluded the chief justice.

Over 200 participants from 65 countries participated in the discussions of quality legal representation.

By: Mosima Mashao
Published: 27 June 2014