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T. Gordon and S. Mark, “Access to Justice, Can You Invest In It?”

Equitable access to justice is one of the cornerstones of a democratic society. The Universal Declaration on Human Rights (UDHR) states that “everyone has the right to an effective remedy by the competent national tribunals for acts violating the fundamental rights granted him by the constitution or by law.” The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) also refers to an “effective remedy” (Article 2(3a)) for all the rights in the convention and further guarantees the right to “take proceedings before a court” (Article 9(4)), the right to a “fair and public hearing” (Article 14(1)), and the right to be tried without undue delay (Article 14(3c)).1 Access to justice is expressed in these instruments as a fundamental and universal right. Defining “access to justice” has however been an elusive task.2
The UDHR and the ICCPR, speak of access to justice in terms of redress through the courts. Accordingly, early approaches to improving access to justice focused on ensuring equality of access to disadvantaged groups and others who increasingly were excluded from having access to the courts due to lack of funds and conveniently located legal resources. As a result, early responses to improving access to justice saw the development of legal aid and community legal centres. Today however, “access to justice” is recognised as a much broader issue than the right “to an effective remedy by a competent tribunal” or “the right to take proceedings before a court.”3

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