Access to Justice is the ability of citizens to seek and obtain a remedy for a justice problem through formal or informal institutions of justice, and in conformity with human rights standards. The ABA Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI) recognizes how essential accessing justice is to communities and individuals, especially the poor and the marginalized. The Access to Justice Assessment Tool (AJAT) is designed to engage local civil society organizations (CSOs) in addressing obstacles to access to justice. The AJAT and its findings inform justice sector reforms, helping citizens seek and obtain justice.
The AJAT is a mechanism for assessing whether citizens can obtain legal remedies to their justice problems to ensure their basic rights are recognized and protected. The tool is specifically geared for implementation by local civil society organizations; as such, its design is inspired by the belief that research projects have a dual purpose: to produce credible, convincing evidence about a community’s problem and to build local capacity to conduct quality research.
The tool incorporates a training manual for CSOs on identifying and designing solutions to access to justice challenges. The manual provides an analytical framework and teaches core research techniques, including how to conduct semi-structured interviews and focus groups, evaluate research findings, prepare recommendations and present reports with proposed solutions. The AJAT fosters positive change by producing objective data and building knowledge that communities can use to strengthen themselves.
Since 2010, ABA ROLI has been piloting the AJAT with CSOs in Africa and Southeast Asia. With ABA ROLI’s training and assistance, the CSOs formulated key research questions, developed comprehensive research plans, conducted interviews and focus groups, and wrote policy papers summarizing their research findings. The pilot assessments considered both formal and informal justice mechanisms, and included the perspectives of citizens as well as key governmental and community stakeholders. Partner CSOs will use the resulting reports, which will be published in both English and a local language, to advocate for reform.
In fall 2011, ABA ROLI will convene strategic planning conferences in each pilot location to bring together key government stakeholders, international donors and other civil society groups to formulate a long-term strategy to improve access to justice for the poor and marginalized. ABA ROLI has also provided small grants to enable partner CSOs to design and implement programs that address needs identified during their research.