Preparatory Assistance Project to Access Justice and Legal Aid in the Arab Region 

Project Status: Completed

Project Duration: 14/08/2008 - 31/01/2011

Total Budget: US$150,000

Donors: Ford Foundation


National Counterparts in Egypt, Jordan and the Occupied Palestinian Territories

Target Groups

Ministries of Justice in Egypt, Jordan and the Occupied Palestinian Territories

Civil Society Organizations in Egypt, Jordan and the Occupied Palestinian Territories that are active in the area of legal aid and access to justice.

Outline and Objectives

Arab criminal justice systems bear a strong resemblance to each other for a number of historical, political, cultural and social reasons. The Middle East and North Africa region has been criticized for its poor human rights record as well as its slow progress in the area of good governance. In fact, both the human rights violations and the democratic deficit have been recognized as the major impediments of development in the region. It is primarily in the justice system that human rights standards and practices became most relevant. Most governments within the region have committed themselves to an impressive array of international human rights instruments. Consequently, concerns over the implementation of these provisions arise most frequently in the realm of the citizens' access to justice, as the absence of an effective rule of law limits the extent to which the citizens can achieve their full political and social rights.

The institutional framework of the judiciary is often characterized by weak administrative capacity and a lack of adequate infrastructure. The litigation process is slow and there is a failure to execute the court rulings. In a number of Arab countries, studies of the time to case disposition show inordinate delays in getting cases resolved, with some delays exceeding by years the statutory limits laid out in the codes of civil and penal procedure. The excessive volume of cases to be settled also affects the quality of justice. The continued pressure on judges for settling cases forces them to shorten both time and attention devoted to the different phases during the instruction of cases.

These delays have a negative economic impact as surveys have shown that both foreign and domestic investors are reluctant to enter into long-term contracts and investments in countries whose courts have little ability to resolve business disputes in a transparent and timely fashion. Another result of this myriad problem is that the average citizen often avoids contact with the judiciary viewing it as a last resort for resolution of cases. The vulnerable groups are typically affected by this problem as they lack the means and the ability to obtain adequate non-judicial redress through private arbitration. The various obstacles to using the court system have simply resulted into a phenomenon of "private law enforcement" often through brutal means, a phenomenon widely spread in the poor provinces of the Arab region.

Inadequate access to legal materials constitutes another obstacle for the officials and employees of the justice system to exercise their work as well as for citizens to obtain their rights, especially among women in the Arab society, where a considerable illiteracy rate still constitutes an obstacle to their access to justice.

In this aspect the justice system has failed to demonstrate a capacity to be effective becoming an opaque area for the majority of the Arab citizens. This sense of unfamiliarity has lead to the insufficient implementation of the rights by the claim holders in Arab societies who often share a feeling of exclusion from the justice system. Furthermore, members of the legal professions have sometimes abused this situation, especially in poor and remote provinces, leading to an urgent need to improve the legal aid service provided to the public.

The purpose of this project is to assess the capacity of Egypt, Jordan and the Palestinian Territory in the area of citizens' access to justice and legal aid with a view to develop a program of technical assistance in order to establish legal aid offices. As such, the project will establish the platform for the dialogue between the national authorities and the NGOs on the improvement of the legal aid system through:

  1. Undertaking a comprehensive study assessing the needs of the target countries in the area of access to justice and legal aid;
  2. Organizing regional and national conferences to forge the partnerships between the national authorities and civil society and to review the needs and requirements to promote the access to justice;
  1. Developing a project document for a multi-year programme in collaboration with the national counterparts.

Key Achievements

  1. A comprehensive study assessing the needs of the target countries in the area of legal aid established
  2. Conferences and Seminars forging the partnership between the national authorities and civil society organized to review and discuss the development of legal aid services
  3. The project document for the multi-year programme developed, in collaboration with the national counterparts