Developing Legal Aid Systems in Asia

Developing legal aid
systems in Asia-Pacific
Nick Booth
Programme Advisor – Governance, Conflict Prevention, Access to
Justice and Human Rights
UNDP Bangkok Regional Hub
Legal aid in Asia-Pacific:
Great diversity and rapid development
A significant minority of countries (10) have constitutional provisions mandating legal aid
(but only 4 of those have legal aid legislation to implement it)
A significant minority of countries (11) have legal aid legislation or are developing it, and
these generally have state authorities overseeing and providing legal aid (Bangladesh, China,
Fiji, India, Indonesia, Mongolia, Nepal, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Viet Nam) but with differing
Bar Associations play key role in providing legal aid in a number of other countries (Laos,
Malaysia, Pakistan, Philippines, Thailand). Pro bono lawyering is in early stages but growing
NGOs are active in providing legal aid in almost every country, and in some (Cambodia) they
are the only providers
University law clinics are playing a growing role across the region (China, India, Indonesia,
Malaysia, Myanmar, Pakistan, Singapore, Thailand, Viet Nam)
UNDP support to legal aid development
For UNDP legal aid is inseparable from access to
justice, and access to justice is necessary for fighting
poverty, inequality and exclusion.
So legal aid is (or has been) part of every rule of
law/access to justice programme of UNDP; and those
programmes are a core part of our work in 14 countries
in Asia-Pacific (and growing)
Principles and values underlying UNDP
oNot just criminal law – because people need the law to protect
them from domestic violence, protect their land and
livelihoods, their right to education and health….
oNot just courts, because most disputes are solved more easily
and cheaply through other means
oNot just lawyers – because there are no lawyers where most
poor and vulnerable live, because paying lawyers is
unsustainable and in most cases unnecessary
UNDP support to legal aid development
Our support varies on country context and stage of development, from:
Research, assessment, policy dialogue, consultation (Maldives, Myanmar, Thailand)
Supporting implementation of national framework (Afghanistan, Indonesia)
Supporting legal aid clinics, whether run by government (Bangladesh, Nepal, India,
Sri Lanka), Bar Associations (Pakistan, Laos) on NGOs (China, Viet Nam)
Supporting university law clinics (Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, Viet Nam)
Supporting pro bono initiatives (regional)
Wherever possible we support states to pilot legal aid models and then institutionalize
them (case study: Mongolia)
UNDP support to legal aid development
in Mongolia
1992 Constitution guaranteed the right to receive legal aid, but it remained
unimplemented until after 2000
2003-2005 first pilot legal aid centres (Ministry of Justice/OSF)
2006 Mongolian state policy on legal aid for the poor
2007-2011 UNDP supported MOJ to establish Legal Aid Centres at district (aimag)
level, with initial Government contribution of 5 million MNT (2008).
37 legal aid centres staffed by 72 public defenders fully handed over to Government
by 2012
2013 Law on Legal Aid to Indigent Defendants, budget of 1480 MNT in 2013 (300-fold
Criminal legal aid in Afghanistan
Women’s legal aid clinic in Malakand, Pakistan
Beijing Zhicheng Migrant Workers Legal Aid and
Research Centre (NGO)
Research and advocacy
Community teaching on HIV/AIDS by law
students in Viet Nam
Law students teach factory workers about their rights in Viet Nam
Promoting pro-bono law across the
Promoting pro-bono law across the
Tashi Delek!

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