Discover the Latest Innovations and Lessons Learned in Rule of Law and Legal Empowerment Projects
In January, the World Bank’s MENA Knowledge and Learning Quick Note Series published an insightful piece titled “Building Legal Aid Services from the Ground Up: Learning From Pilot Initiatives in Jordan.” The article touches on common challenges and themes that many other rule of law programs face and it provides examples of creative ways the Justice Center for Legal Aid (JCLA) in Jordan has addressed it. Check it out below!
The Importance of Prioritizing Legal Aid for Civil and Family Law Cases
Governments often prioritize legal aid for criminal matters. However, civil and family law cases, while important from a justice perspective, may prove important in addressing poverty. The 2011 Demand for Legal Aid Services household survey demonstrates the intersection of poverty and the justice sector. It suggests that poor persons are more likely to face legal disputes, more likely to avoid going to court when they have a dispute, and are less likely to have a lawyer in court. The poor were also more likely to report disputes involving civil and family law issues, particularly involving alimony, child custody and inheritance cases. This is reaffirmed by the JCLA’s caseload, where most beneficiaries seek assistance for family law and civil cases. and is broadly consistent with global trends.
Ensuring Lawyers Aren’t Threatened by Civil Society’s Legal Aid Programs
Lawyers, both privately and through organizations such as bar associations, often react negatively to CSOs developing legal aid out of a sense of competition. Cooperation schemes, such as referral mechanisms involving lawyers or the bar association, can sometimes ease the tension.
JCLA’s promising experimental mechanisms for cooperation include a system to retain private lawyers for highly specialized cases, for example employment abuses, and working with the Jordan Bar Association to provide lawyers for complicated cases, such as serious crimes. Judges in the Sharia (Family) Courts have begun referring the unrepresented directly to JCLA, usually when the party is vulnerable or where the opposing party is already represented by a lawyer. Without a centralized intake system, judges play an important role in referring parties to service providers. The Judicial Training Institute has shown interest in training on issues facing the poor and how judges can better serve them.
Building Sustainability by Partnering with the Private Sector
The private sector is often overlooked as a partner, but offers potential for cooperation. Private sector entities are not commonly viewed as a potential partner in the provision of legal aid services. As part of its Corporate Social Responsibility program, the Nuqul Foundation – part of the Nuqul Group – is implementing activities to improve livelihoods in the district of Al-Koura, a remote area that had been suffering from a lack of investment. The initiatives involve working with local communities and municipal governments in the design and implementation of activities to address social and economic needs. Out of a recognition that poor members of the community have unmet legal needs, the Nuqul Foundation is providing JCLA free space for a LAC as part of the Foundation’s existing infrastructure. JCLA is also initiating discussions with private philanthropists to consider a scheme of ‘adopting’ a LAC by contributing to its expenses.
Moving Away from the ‘One-Stop’ Shop Model
The program originally envisioned a series of one- stop LACs where all types of legal services would be provided. These stand-alone LACs have proven successful in larger urban areas where caseloads are relatively high. In smaller population centers JCLA has adopted a model of co-locating lawyers within offices of local CSOs providing social services. This has proven beneficial since local CSOs provide a natural outreach mechanism, especially to the more marginalized populations.
JCLA and partner services are often complementary for certain types of cases. For example, victims of domestic violence can benefit from advice from the legal aid lawyer on legal options, while receiving psycho-social and job-training programs. Partner CSOs report that having a lawyer in the offices provides beneficiaries greater choice in addressing their problems, and gives CSOs more leverage when dealing with public sector officials taking interactions with lawyers more seriously.
Building Trust and Raising Awareness of Legal Aid Mechanisms
Where legal aid is new, and in areas with weak governance practices, citizens need to develop trust before they are willing to engage. This takes time. Vulnerable communities, such as refugees and minorities are, even more difficult to reach. Often the best advertisement is word-of-mouth, which is slower than other forms of communication. To build trust in poor communities and spread information, JCLA integrates community leaders within legal aid structures while building their capacity to play an active role in information and awareness sessions.
Creating a Pro Bono Culture Among Lawyers
Developing pro bono lawyer networks involves longer-term changes to the culture of practicing law. Pro bono networks involving volunteer lawyers are a logical response to ensure sustainability for legal aid systems. The Jordan Bar Association can appoint lawyers to perform mandatory pro bono assistance – a model suddenly gaining momentum in some high-income countries – but this mechanisms remains underutilized. Jordan lacks a culture of professional volunteerism in the justice sector, so pro bono is taking time to develop.
Pro bono mechanisms are often more effective when lawyers have incentives such as training in new areas of law, some type of credit with the bar association or support from an employer. JCLA is attempting to develop pro bono along two tracks. The first is having established lawyers volunteer for cases requiring specialized experience. The second is to utilize law school graduates performing mandatory two-year unpaid apprenticeships. JCLA trains and supervises them in provision of legal aid, and those receiving the highest performance evaluations are offered full-time employment.
Providing Safe and Discreet Spaces for People Seeking Legal Aid
Privacy and location matter for beneficiaries. Implementing privacy policies has proven important in developing trust with existing and potential beneficiaries. This is particularly important in socially conservative areas and in cases of domestic or sexual violence. JCLA has policies to ensure greater privacy, including allowing appointments without providing full names.
Location of Lawyers’ offices also matters. Where JCLA co-locates lawyers with other CSOs, attention is now paid to ensuring lawyer’s office is in a less public area of the CSO premises. Client feedback identified another benefit of discreet locations. In more conservative areas women avoid LACs because of perceptions of asserting rights contrary to local norms, yet find it easier to access a lawyer located in a CSO providing social programs.