Monsieur le Ministre de la Justice et de la Sécurité Publique,
Honorable Président et membres du Conseil Supérieur du Pouvoir Judiciaire,
Honorables Juges et membres du pouvoir Judiciaire,
Monsieur le Bâtonnier de l’Ordre des Avocats de Port au Prince,
Monsieur le Représentant du Secrétaire General des Nations Unis,
Mesdames, Mesdemoiselles, Messieurs,
It is an honor for me to take part in this dissemination workshop on the law on legal assistance. Justice should be for everyone, not only some. This law assures that justice will prevail for everyone.
The idea of providing free legal representation in court to the most disadvantaged arose in ancient Greece. However, the right to counsel has really taken off with the great movement within the international community to highlight human rights after the Second World War. Since then, Haiti has enshrined in its constitution the principle of the right to counsel (Article 25-1) and has signed and ratified several related international and regional conventions.
Some of these conventions, such as the International Covenant quoted above, require that a lawyer be assigned ex officio, free of charge, if an individual can not afford to pay one.
In a country where 80% of the population lives below the poverty line and the national pre-trial detention rate reaches 75%, it is imperative for the state to offer its citizens free legal assistance. Over the last twenty years, such programs, set up most often with the Bar associations, supported by the financing of international institutions, have made it possible to offer a legal assistance to those most in need.
Although these programs have been implemented with enthusiasm and good faith, they are imperfect. Procedures, services, budgets and eligibility criteria vary from project to project. These programs are executed only in certain jurisdictions, so access is limited. Moreover, their sustainability is uncertain since they depend on international financing.
In Haiti, our priority has always been the promotion of sustainable economic and social development, focused on good governance, the protection of human rights, and the rule of law that only a judicial system accessible to all citizens can guarantee.
Over the last 10 years, Haiti has made considerable progress in the rule of law with the adoption in 2007 of the CSPJ and the Judicial Academy (l’Ecole de la Magistrature), two institutions that play a key role in making the judicial system more accessible. In 2018 the country passed a law on legal assistance. This law will allow Haitian citizens to have access to free and standardized legal assistance throughout the territory of the Republic when they are unable financially to afford the services of a lawyer. This law on legal assistance, published in the Moniteur on October 26, 2018, not only enshrines and guarantees the principle of legal and judicial representation, but also makes it effective by establishing a state system of legal assistance for vulnerable persons.
The United States Government has supported all the steps that led to the advent of the law, both in the course of drafting and in parliamentary work. We are now happy to support the process of publicizing and disseminating this law across the country through workshops like this one today. USAID also collaborates with the Ministry of Justice and Public Security (MJSP) for the establishment of the National Council of Legal Assistance or “CNAL” especially in the preparation of the budget and the drafting of internal regulations and its structures.
The law is only the beginning, and a law without applying it is not worth anything. There is still now a long way to go until the State can provide the CNAL with a sufficient operating budget to ensure a complete and continuous service. In this respect, it is interesting to note that the law offers innovative structures of complementary financing, in particular via a legal assistance fund including 30% of the amount of the criminal fines collected monthly.
To date, and until the effective implementation of legal assistance services by the CNAL, the United States Government through USAID will continue to support legal assistance programs underway in the Cap-Haitien, Fort-Liberté, Saint-Marc, Croix-des-Bouquets and Port-au-Prince Bar associations. Last year, the Legal Assistance Offices or BAL in these 5 jurisdictions offered with free USAID support, legal assistance to more than 2666 individuals.
The U.S. embassy is also proud to support through our Public Diplomacy grants program the first legal clinic partnership between the University of California Hastings Law School and the College of Law in Jeremie which allows law students to gain practical litigation experience while representing poor detainees under appropriate supervision of an attorney.
Since the 1990s, USAID has implemented 4 projects to strengthen the rule of law here in Haiti including the current Haiti Justice Sector Strengthening Program (JSSP), all of which include important components of access to justice. The United States Government is therefore proud that the Haitian State, through the adoption of the law on legal assistance on September 10, 2018, set up a national program aimed at providing free legal assistance to the most vulnerable people.
The United States Government will continue to be at your side to facilitate its implementation; we welcomes the holding of this workshop, which will make it possible to become acquainted with this new legal instrument and will constitute a space of exchange where lawyers, judges, government commissioners and other judicial actors will become familiar with this new law.