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High court judges during an open day for judiciary at Nairobi

Law ministers to tackle barriers around access to justice in the Commonwealth

30 October 2019

Law ministers and attorney generals from Commonwealth countries will meet in Colombo, Sri Lanka, to address challenges faced by millions of people seeking to resolve legal problems or disputes. These include barriers such as poverty, lack of legal aid, distrust of the justice system, and corruption.

The biennial Commonwealth Law Ministers’ Meeting (CLMM) will take place from 4 to 7 November under the theme ‘Equal access to justice and the rule of law’, chaired by the Minister of Justice and Prison Reforms of Sri Lanka, Thalatha Atukorale.

Commonwealth Secretary-General Patricia Scotland underlined the event’s significance in the current global context, in which obstacles to justice are prevalent in many forms.

She said: “Access to justice is fundamental for democracy and peace to flourish, and so Commonwealth countries are working actively through mutual support and encouragement so that all members are better placed to address barriers that may remain, particularly for vulnerable groups.

“Our Commonwealth Charter recognises that an independent, effective and competent legal system is integral to upholding the rule of law, engendering public confidence and dispensing justice, and ensuring equal access to justice is one of the goals of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.”

Barriers to accessing justice include the costs of legal services, complex legal language, lack of access to legal aid, and corruption. Limited understanding as well as distrust of the justice system are also problems.

Some justice seekers are especially disadvantaged, including low and middle income populations, people with disabilities, rural communities, indigenous peoples and refugees.

Commonwealth law ministers will explore responses that seek to resolve disputes fairly. Potential solutions include innovative technologies such as web-based platforms and mobile courts, citizen-focused approaches and specialised justice services.

The meeting will also discuss the opportunities offered by international commercial arbitration and the challenges that Commonwealth countries, particularly small states, may face in accessing this as a means of dispute resolution.

The meeting will also look at specific legal tools offered by the Commonwealth Secretariat.

Learn more about the Commonwealth Law Ministers Meeting