Accessing Justice: The Role of Law School Legal Clinics in Conflict-affected Societies

Date01 July 2014
Published date01 July 2014
Subject MatterArticles
Military-Madrasa-Mullah Complex 71
India Quarterly, 66, 2 (2010): 133–149
A Global Threat 71
Accessing Justice: The Role
of Law School Legal Clinics
in Conflict-affected Societies
Richard Grimes
This article looks at access to justice in the context of histories, past or present, of armed conflict and
civil strife. It takes, as its starting point, the importance of the rule of law as one of the means, if not the
only (or even most suitable), of rendering accountable those who violate rights and prevent the uptake
of entitlements. Given the relative lack of infrastructure in many jurisdictions, it is often problematic
for indigent people to secure legal help. To address such unmet needs, non-governmental organizations
(NGOs) and legal educators (and in some instances government departments) are coming together to
establish legal clinics through which clients and communities can be assisted. Where these clinics are
based in or are otherwise being supported by law schools, students under professional supervision, not
only help the poor and the needy but also develop their own knowledge, skills and values by applying
principle to practice. The article draws on the author’s direct experience in countries emerging from
conflict and asks, to what extent can legal clinics provide an appropriate, relevant and sustainable
service that meets the needs of all stakeholders? Also, it seeks to address whether there are lessons
to be learnt from observed developments and if there is a ‘clinical’ model that can be adapted and
implemented in jurisdictions where access to justice is a major challenge.
The trials and tribulations suffered by and currently facing countries, from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe,
are reported almost daily and are often, regrettably infamous. This article is intended to contribute to the
discussion as to what extent and how countries with such historical or current difficulties are addressing
the issue of access to justice.1
Acknowledgements: The author very much appreciates the opportunities he has been given to see and to work alongside colleagues
in legal clinics in many countries. The individuals concerned are too numerous to mention here but they know who they are and he
is truly grateful to them. He is also appreciative of the detailed and constructive comments provided on an earlier draft of this
article by the peer reviewers. The shortcomings contained in this revised version are of course down to him.
1 The impetus for this article originated in discussions the author held and work he carried out for a variety of state and non-state
organizations and with donor agencies supporting in-country programmes, in jurisdictions with recent histories of conflict. His
visits in Afghanistan were to Kabul and Herat and took place in October 2009 and in May, September and December 2010. He was
Richard Grimes, Director of Clinical Programmes, York Law School, England.
Asian Journal of Legal Education
1(2) 71–87
© 2014 The West Bengal National
University of Juridical Sciences
SAGE Publications
Los Angeles, London,
New Delhi, Singapore,
Washington DC
DOI: 10.1177/2322005814530327
Asian Journal of Legal Education, 1, 2 (2014): 71–87
72 Richard Grimes
The thrust of this article comes from the presumption that access to justice is a desirable end in
itself and that this necessarily implies access to legal advice, as well as to other legal services, including
representation before courts and tribunals. In their recent article on promoting and supporting the
rule of law in ‘impoverished’ countries, Soros and Abed2 cited the United Nations (UN) Millennium
Development Goals as a vehicle for ensuring that all might have access to ‘formal justice’. Such facilities
may be provided through a variety of sources. In those jurisdictions where there is little or no state
subsidy, or other provision of lawyers and a limited or non-existent culture of pro bono services, heavy
reliance is placed on non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and others to respond to unmet legal
needs.3 Of course, using lawyers is not the only, or indeed preferred, way of resolving problems. In
many countries long-established effective dispute resolutions models are practised; for example in
the Afghan context, the use of the jalasa or community meeting is popular in resolving disputes.4
In many countries law schools are now providing an initial port of call for people who are unable,
financially and/or culturally to otherwise get a lawyer’s help. This article will focus, in particular, on the
rise of the law school clinic as a significant means of addressing existing and potential need.
In examining the principles and problems arising in an access to justice and conflict context, exam-
ples will be used from countries of which the author has personal experience—principally Afghanistan.
The countries referred to in this article have suffered from varying degrees of, but in every instance,
highly significant, conflict, albeit in some places longer ago than others. In each jurisdiction, legal
clinics have, to a lesser or greater extent, been recently established. The models used in each are, despite
obvious political, cultural and socio-economic differences, remarkably similar, as are the outcomes
By looking at access to justice needs in each jurisdiction and by using case studies that show how
those needs are addressed, this article is intended to assess how effective law school involvement in
legal service provision may be, given the availability or lack of it, of other legal service provisions. The
measure of efficacy may be actual, as has been evidenced by internal and external evaluation, or may
be potential, as supported by structures, partnerships and initiatives planned or in place. This is not
an attempt to provide detailed empirical analyses, but rather to assess the nature and extent of service
provision that is being, or can be, provided. A longitudinal study would be needed to see if the actual
services provided made a long-term and measurable impact.
Before looking at the principles and challenges surrounding access to justice and the impact that
legal clinics have had and may have, the notion of the law clinic needs to be explained.
in Georgia working in Tbilisi, Batumi and Kutaisi at various points in April, May, July and September 2012. Reference to
relevant meetings, programmes and organizations will be made as appropriate in the text or footnotes.
2 G. Soros & F.H. Abed, Rule of Law Can Rid the World of Poverty, Financial Times (September 28, 2012), available at
3 Taken from the term pro bono publico—or ‘for the public good’. In this context, this is assumed to mean the provision of
legal services without charge by either private practitioners or not for profit organizations. It is to be differentiated from legal
services provided through public funding—otherwise known as Legal Aid. The latter is a system either of state subsidy for
meeting legal costs or of state provision of a lawyer.
4 See R. Gang, Community-based Dispute Resolution Processes in Balkh Province, in aFghanisTan ReseaRch and evaluaTion uniT
case sTudy seRies (2010).

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