Justice is a fundamental human right. Whether innocent or guilty, every person deserves access to a fair hearing, to legal representation, to justice.
Yet, all too often those at the margins of society are unable to afford legal services. Unrepresented and disproportionately victimised in the criminal justice system.
Justice Defenders is creating a new narrative around who can make and shape the law. Investing in the people who are usually excluded from shaping justice systems. Equipping them to provide free legal services to fellow inmates.
Justice work is hard, and prisons are difficult environments to work in. But there is so much resilience, hope and so many lessons to be learnt. Here are six fundamental principles from Justice Defenders' work on how to deliver justice.
1. Focus on the people
People need to not only understand the law, their rights, and how the system works, but have trust it will protect them.
Justice Defenders is providing people-centred justice by going to the heart of the problem and training people in prisons in Africa to become their own advocates. This places the power of the law in the hands of the people who need it most – the hands of the defenceless, those furthest from justice.
2. A bottom-up approach
The current approach to providing access to justice for all is not working.
Justice Defenders is seeking to make change from the bottom up, by providing people in prison with legal training. These “grassroots defenders” are filling the gaps in the formal legal system.
People who have been unable to access justice become the most committed to achieving lasting change and justice for all.
3. The transformational power of education
Providing high quality legal training for inmates and prison officers means they can go on to run daily free legal advice sessions for fellow prisoners, educating them about their rights and helping resolve legal problems.
The paralegal programme is at the heart of the Justice Defenders' approach. Some of the prisoners and staff who train to become paralegals go on to study law with the University of London, via distance learning.
4. Partnerships with unlikely allies
Those within the criminal justice system, prison governors and judges all understand the impacts injustice has.
They do not want overcrowded prisons and unfair justice systems. They want to help find, and be part of, the solution.
Justice Defenders is changing the dynamics of the prison system from the inside out. Training prisoners and prison staff alongside each other, while building the capacity of governors in prison management creates systemic change.
5. Seize the multiplier effect
Training paralegals enables individuals to flourish. They have the knowledge to assist thousands of others to obtain fair release. Returning them to their families and jobs sooner.
Training prison officers alongside prisoners has a profound effect on the prison environment and helps to decongest the prisons and clear the backlog in courts, resulting in a more efficient and fairer justice system. The work is scalable, cost effective and sustainable.
6. Put positivity in prisons
Justice Defenders’ model is transforming prisons into places of positivity. Those involved in the work say they have found hope in the last place they expected to find it.
The collaborative approach proves those who experience injustice – and who may appear to be the least able to provide access to justice – can become the most committed to achieving lasting change.
Diana Good is a former Commissioner with the UK’s aid watchdog, the Independent Commission for Aid Impact, a specialist adviser to the International Development Committee in the UK Parliament. She was previously a partner of Linklaters LLP international law firm and a part-time judge sitting in the Crown Court.
Diana has authored a new independent report which lays out the scale of, and solutions to, the global justice crisis. The report also examines the impact of Justice Defenders’ approach.
Read the report: The Power of Access to Justice