Nepal: UNODC Facilitates Establishment of Regional Legal Aid Network in South Asia

Kathmandu, Nepal/18 April 2024: In South Asia, the journey towards equitable access to justice continues, driven by the spirit of collaboration, knowledge sharing and a joint commitment to leaving no one behind, translating into access to justice for the poor, the marginalized, and the disadvantaged.

While recognizing the diverse legal systems, traditions and cultures across countries, yet united in their commitment to equitable access to justice, 31 legal aid experts from Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, India, and Sri Lanka joined UNODC for a two-day meeting in Kathmandu with the objective to work towards establishing a regional criminal justice legal aid network.

This initiative aims at strengthening efforts to guarantee equal access to legal aid for the poor and those in vulnerable situations, while promoting fairness and efficiency in criminal justice systems. UNODC’s efforts  highlight the importance of protecting  those who do not have the means to defend their rights in the criminal justice system: the detained, arrested or imprisoned; those suspected, accused of, or charged with a criminal offence; and victims and witnesses.

Building on the achievements of the first-ever regional workshop on legal aid in criminal justice systems in 2023, the meeting further allowed experts to exchange on national updates of normative frameworks, ongoing multi-partnership projects and experiences, and good practices, as well as regional cooperation needs.

Key reform topics discussed were legislative reforms, fostering inclusive services for persons in vulnerable situations, promoting diversity and representation among legal aid service providers, monitoring of quality of services, improving data collection and reporting, and leveraging technology for improved access to justice.

Based on shared knowledge, conversations turned to developing terms of reference for the regional network on legal aid. Learning about existing, sustainable networks of legal aid providers and other criminal justice actors, including those established under the auspices of UNODC, deliberations between experts addressed provisions such as background information, definitions, objectives, and membership criteria.

During his opening remarks, Dr. Dina Mani Pokharel, Nepal's Attorney General, welcomed UNODC's ongoing support for criminal justice systems, underscoring the importance of cooperation efforts. He emphasized that the establishment of a Regional Criminal Justice Legal Aid Network is crucial in today's interconnected world.

He believed that such a network would serve as a cornerstone for ensuring equal access to justice across borders, bridging gaps in legal representation and support for those in need. By pooling resources and expertise at a regional level, we can enhance the quality of legal aid services and promote consistency in legal standards and practices and can create a society where the rights of all individuals are protected, where justice is served without delay, and where no one is left behind.

Mr. Marco Teixeira, UNODC Regional Representative for South Asia, emphasized the importance of raising awareness about the right to legal aid and advocating for sustainable mechanisms for legal aid delivery, as well as highlighted the significance of mutual learning and inter-regional cooperation.

At the conclusion of the event, participants agreed on the way forward by finalizing the review and agreement of the draft terms of reference for the Regional Criminal Justice Legal Aid Network in South Asia, for later endorsement by high-level national officials, and to continue to participate in activities aimed at further advancing legal awareness and legal aid initiatives.

This activity contributed to SDG 16, particularly through the promotion of the rule of law at the national and international levels and ensuring equal access to justice for all.

The activity contributed to SDG 16 and SDG 17: