This module is a resource for lecturers  




Legal aid is an essential element of a fair, humane and efficient criminal justice system that is based on therule of law. Legal aid is the foundation for the enjoyment of other rights, including the right to fair trial… a precondition to exercising such rights and an important safeguard that ensures fundamental fairness and public trust in the criminal justice process. (United Nations Principles and Guidelines on Access to Legal Aid in Criminal Justice Systems, 2013, Recital 1)

Effective access to legal aid, both in the sense of access to legal services and access to funding for people who cannot afford legal services, is clearly essential to guarantee a fair trial. However, it also has instrumental benefits for criminal justice systems generally and for the wider community. It helps to ensure a fair and just criminal justice process, safeguarding communities against inappropriate conduct by State officials, reducing unnecessary incarceration, and building confidence that due process will be respected.

The Module is structured around the United Nations Principles and Guidelines on Access to Legal Aid in Criminal Justice Systems  ('UNPG'). Reference is made (as appropriate) to the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners  ('Nelson Mandela Rules'), the United Nations Rules for the Treatment of Women Prisoners and Non-custodial Measures for Women Offenders  ('Bangkok Rules'), as well as publications and tools such as the UNODC Model Law on Legal Aid in Criminal Justice Systems with Commentaries  ('UNODC Model Law'), the UNODC/UNDP Global Study on Legal Aid: Global Report  ('Global Study on Legal Aid'), and the UNODC/UNDP handbook titled Early access to legal aid in criminal justice processes: a handbook for policymakers and practitioners  ('Early Access Handbook').


Learning outcomes

  • Identify, discuss, and develop a critical understanding of the primary international standards and norms regarding access to legal aid in criminal justice systems.
  • Understand and critically assess how those standards and norms may be given practical effect having regard to the major criminal procedural traditions, and criminal justice institutions, processes and cultures in a range of jurisdictions.
  • Describe and evaluate access to legal aid in different jurisdictions by reference to those international standards and norms, using multi-jurisdictional examples.
  • Consider, propose, and constructively assess strategies for improving access to legal aid in different jurisdictions.
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