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UN expert calls for legal empowerment to democratise justice for all

20 October 2023

NEW YORK (20 October 2023) – People-centred justice could offer transformative solutions to ensure meaningful access to justice for all, a UN expert said today. She called for an approach known as legal empowerment to support communities to know and use the law.

“When we equip communities with the tools to shape and transform unfair and harmful laws, we help democratise legal systems,” said Margaret Satterthwaite, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers. “Tinkering around the edges or doubling down on doing things the way we always have will not ensure access to justice for all,” she said.

In her first report to the General Assembly, Satterthwaite outlined the opportunities offered by legal empowerment and concrete steps for its implementation. She also described the extent to which justice systems are failing to meet people’s needs.

“An estimated 5.1 billion people—two-thirds of the world’s population— lack access to justice for everyday problems, are excluded from opportunities provided by the law and/or live in extreme conditions of injustice,” the expert said.

The Special Rapporteur called on all States to put people and communities at the centre of the debate on how to improve access to justice and to strengthen their capacity to make their voices heard. “People-centred approaches respond to the enormous gap between human rights and reality and respect the inherent dignity of all,” she said.

The report includes recommendations for States, bar associations, and judges, urging them to remove obstacles faced by community justice workers.

“I urge States to decriminalise unauthorised practice of law for community justice workers, recognise such workers as human rights defenders, and provide them with protection and security resources where necessary,” Satterthwaite said.

Ms. Margaret Satterthwaite, Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers. She was appointed as United Nations Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers by the Human Rights Council in October 2022. Professor Satterthwaite is an international human rights scholar and practitioner with decades of experience in the field. She is a Professor of Clinical Law at New York University School of Law.

The Experts are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent of any government or organisation and serve in their individual capacity.

For further information and media requests, please contact: Melanie Santizo (+41 22 917 9963/ [email protected]) or write to [email protected]

For media enquiries regarding other UN independent experts, please contact Maya Derouaz ([email protected]) or Dharisha Indraguptha ([email protected])

Follow news related to the UN's independent human rights experts on Twitter @UN_SPExperts.

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