August 10, 2019

Non-bailable offences - a violation of the right to be presumed innocent

In many jurisdictions, in particular here in South Asia, there is a practice of considering the type of charges against an accused when determining whether or not to grant bail, instead of considering only the risks of the accused fleeing the jurisdiction, tampering with evidence, intimidating witnesses, or posing a threat to the public. Last week, the Supreme Court of Bhutan ruled that this practice contravenes section 16 of Article 7 of the Constitution of the Kingdom of Bhutan, which states, “A person charged with a penal offence has the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty in accordance with the law”. This presumption of innocence is of course found in the laws of most jurisdictions, yet in many them the unproven charges against accused are still grounds for denying bail. Perhaps this judgment from Bhutan can prompt more courts around the world to consider whether the concept of the non-bailable offence is indeed compatible with the presumption of innocence.

See more at:

August 8, 2019

Swami Agnivesh in the Bhutan Dialoge

We had the honour, this evening, of dining with one of the greatest spiritual, philosophical and political thinkers and activists of our time.

Swami Agnivesh's resume includes no less than 11 stints in prison on accusations of subversion – which is an irony given that his life’s work has been dedicated to upholding the Indian Constitution. Sawami Ji was a pioneer of public interest litigation in India as he sought to use the law and the legal system to challenge the practice of bonded labour. More about his many achievements here:

In the Bhutan Dialogue this afternoon he encouraged us all to ‘doubt, debate and if necessary, to dissent.’ Regrettably, few of us are likely to have even a sliver of Swami Ji’s courage and fortitude.

The full talk will soon be available at


July 21, 2019

The Justice Snapshot Steering Committee (JSSC) for South West State is formed in Baidoa

GJG Director Adam Stapleton explaining the role and function of the Justice Snapshot Steering Committee.

GJG Director Adam Stapleton explaining the role and function of the Justice Snapshot Steering Committee.

Under the chairmanship of the Minister of Justice for South West State, Honorable Md Hussein Hassan, and the guidance of the Honorable Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of South West State, Justice Ahmed Ali Mussa, a Justice Snapshot Steering Committee was established today. The role of the Steering Committee will be to steer the Justice Snapshot in South West State, to support the data collection effort, and ensure that the process is conducted as agreed in accordance with the needs and priorities of the institutions involved. The Steering Committee is made up of representatives from the Police, Attorney General’s Office, Courts, Custodial Corps, the Bar, legal aid NGOs, and the Ministry of Justice.

April 5, 2019

Meeting with the Honourable Judge Dasho Lobzang Rinzin Yargay, Thimphu, April 5, 2019

Meeting with the Honourable Judge Dasho Lobzang Rinzin Yargay, Thimphu, April 5, 2019

The Bhutan National Legal Institute (BNLI) is the training and research arm of the Judiciary of the Kingdom of Bhutan. In addition to improving court administration and providing training, research and other support services, the BNLI provides mediation training to relevant stakeholders, in particular to Local Government officials, so as to allow them to mediate disputes in communities in accordance with traditional and Buddhist values. In 2018 alone, a total of 4,492 disputes were mediated in 20 Dzongkhags, thus not only helping to restore harmony in society, but also avoiding costly and potentially far more acrimonious litigation before the courts.

Today I had great privilege of meeting the Honourable Judge Dasho Lobzang Rinzin Yargay, who is serving as the Director General of the BNLI. Under the leadership of Judge Dasho Yargay, and with the guidance of Her Royal Highness, Princess Sonam Dechan Wangchuck, the Royal Government of Bhutan is investing in mediation as a critical component of its strategy to advance Gross National Happiness.

July 28, 2018

Bangladesh is the first country to conduct a Justice Audit of its criminal justice system and to chart a deliberate pathway to meeting the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), particularly as they pertain to peace, justice and strong institutions. The Justice Audit Bangladesh was commissioned by the Minister of Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs in 2016, implemented by German Development Cooperation (GIZ) and given the go-ahead to start work in January 2017. 

Every justice institution and many civil society organisations have freely shared their data and fully participated in this Justice Audit. The Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics stepped in to survey the views of ordinary citizens and court users about their needs, experiences and preferences. A Justice Audit Forum (JAF) made up of all stakeholders coordinated the data collection and organisation with a multi-disciplinary team led by a former justice of the South African Constitutional Court.

This collaborative effort has resulted in a highly granulated set of data (down to the Union Parishad in each of the 64 districts) contained in the Baseline Data from which all the graphics are drawn and available to view at District and National levels. Taken together, these data provide: 

  • a snapshot of how the criminal justice system was functioning on 31 December, 2016 across the country and in each of the 64 districts;

  • the pressures on–and challenges confronting–police, legal service providers, courts and prisons by district, (set out in district-view cartograms);

  • the resources available to government and the economies of justice reform.

While other Justice Audits have been completed in Malaysia and the Horn of Africa and one is ongoing in Chicago and Cook County (USA), Bangladesh leads the world in the wealth of data it has collected here. The result is a central, web-based, updateable, resource for government, justice service providers, civil society and external partners – which  

  • illustrates the value of accurate data collection and so catalyses the start of a data collection system and culture throughout the justice and security sector;

  • provides a strong evidence-base to inform planning and budget allocation – for the national authorities and international development partners;

  • enables practitioners to see the interlocking needs and inter-dependent nature of the parts and stages of the system and to see themselves as part of a greater whole;

  • enables the public to understand the justice ‘story’ and, by improving the quality of statistics and information available to citizens empowers them with information on the progress towards the SDG and national targets and the contribution they can make; and

  • provides a key tool for policy-makers in leading the development of a long-term plan for the (re)establishment of a fair and efficient justice system.

The Justice Audit is not: 

  • a one-off assessment: the data needs to be updated at regular intervals going forward to identify what is working (and what is not);

  • a finger-pointing exercise (blaming others for their shortfalls);

  • an instrument for ‘scoring’ any institution or ranking any district: it is not an index of performance against which the country may be measured against other countries; nor

  • a report containing a set of recommendations. Editorialising is avoided to allow only the data to speak.

So, what are the major findings of this first national Justice Audit? The national data is already available at 

Press coverage of the launch was provided by the following pajor national news outlets:

june 14, 2018

Mary Robinson came to visit...Jul 2018.jpg

MARY ROBINSON, the 7th President of Ireland and former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights visited the PASI office in Lilongwe on 14 June 2018 to meet with PASI Director Clifford Msiska. She spent an hour and a half discussing how PASI paralegals assist those caught on the front-line of the criminal justice system and train/supervise village mediators under the Village Mediation Programme.

May 7, 2017

Visiting Village Courts in Bangladesh - Justice Audit 2017


April 19, 2017

Adam Foss: A prosecutor's vision for a better justice system


March 8, 2017

The Justice Audit @ ICEGOV New Delhi

Eric Cadora, Director, The Justice Mapping Center, New York (contact: addressing delegates at the 10th International Conference on e-Government (ICEGOV) on Tuesday 7 March 2017 in New Delhi. His presentation drew the attention of delegates away from government procurement procedures, the role of ICT in administrative modernisation programmes and the 'dark side' of digitisation and into a dynamic visualisation of the Justice Audit in Bangladesh and ongoing Justice Audit in Cook County, Illinois, USA (including Chicago) - led by Prof Tom Geraghty - - and quick Justice Snapshots in countries emerging from conflict (contact: Adam Stapleton -

Eric Cadora presenting the Justice Audit at the ICEGOV conference in New Delhi

Eric Cadora presenting the Justice Audit at the ICEGOV conference in New Delhi

The Justice Audit Bangladesh is an initiative of the Bangladesh Minister of Law which is supported by the GJG, Justice Mapping and the Bluhm Legal Clinic at Northwestern University, Chicago (the Justice Audit Team, JAT) with funding from GIZ.

January 22, 2017

justice audit bangladesh has begun

Building on the strong partnership with the Ministry of Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs of Bangladesh and GIZ, the GJG has now embarked on a nationwide Justice Audit covering all 64 districts of Bangladesh. This week, GJG practitioners visited justice institutions in various locations across the country to document the way in which the institutions collect, manage and report data. 

The teams also had the chance to take part in a meeting of the Case Coordinating Committee, a mechanism set up to facilitate the flow of criminal cases through the system. The Case Coordination Committees are based on a model developed by the Paralegal Advisory Service in Malawi, and represent a good example of how practical solutions can be adapted to different contexts. 

Adam Stapleton and Morshed Alam visiting a Village Court in Madaripur District

Adam Stapleton and Morshed Alam visiting a Village Court in Madaripur District



november 26, 2016

Thailand may decriminalise methamphetamine

Thailand’s justice minister is looking to correct his country’s losing battle in the war on drugs. He wants to decriminalise one of the country's most commonly used drugs, methamphetamine, and keep its users out of prison.


October 22, 2016

Poor law 

The rise of paralegals 

From The Economist print edition Middle East and Africa

Africa’s people are mostly rural and poor; its fully qualified lawyers are mostly urban and expensive. In Uganda just one in a hundred disputes ever reaches a lawyer. When the civil war ended in Sierra Leone, the country’s legal fraternity could have fitted in a couple of buses. In Malawi, murder trials were suspended in April this year because the legal-aid board couldn’t afford defence lawyers; it has just nine of its own, and four of those are studying abroad. 

Read the full article about paralegals in The Economist

October 17, 2016

Reforming criminal justice responses to drugs - Here is the plan!

Drug policies, in many parts of the world, have traditionally sought to achieve a ‘drug‐free world’ through crop eradication campaigns, drug seizures and the incarceration of all actors involved in the illicit drug market. This has resulted in law enforcement targeting those at the lowest levels of the drug chain, such as drug couriers, low‐level dealers, subsistence farmers engaged in illicit crop cultivation, and people who use drugs. This approach has led to an increase in drug‐related violence, corruption, mass incarceration and prison overcrowding, while patterns of drug production, trafficking and consumption have tended to evolve in order to evade law enforcement actions.

According to United Nations estimates, one in five people currently in prison around the world are there because of a drug offence, 83 per cent of whom are imprisoned for possession offences. The criminalisation of people who use drugs has had little effect on the overall prevalence of drug use worldwide, while it has driven people away from health‐based interventions in the community. The mass incarceration of low‐level drug offenders has led to an overloading of the criminal justice system in many countries – rendering courts unable to tackle serious crime cases. This ten‐point plan, developed by the International Drug Policy Consortium and Penal Reform International details how states can effectively and appropriately deal with the issue of drugs through a health and human rights‐based approach rather than solely a criminal justice response. The ten-point plan can be downloaded here. Another critical, and more detailed policy options paper, 'Taking Control: A Pathway to Drug Polices that Work' has been published by the Global Commission on Drug Policy and can be downloaded here

September 29, 2016

Penalties for drug law offences in Europe at a glance

The European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) has recently a produced a powerful tool which allows policymakers to gain an overview of the legislation pertaining to narcotic drugs in all European countries. After just a brief examination it becomes strikingly obvious how diverse the legalisation is even within Europe. Drugs use is de facto or de jure decriminalised in several European nations, yet in some it remains a relatively serious offence. Similarly, while the possession of a given amount of any given substance may give rise to just fine in one European country, it can carry a minimum sentence of several years imprisonment in a neighbouring country. This illustrates how even countries, which otherwise have a lot in common, may have very different policy positions when it comes to drug related crime. The new tool can be accessed by clicking here.  

August 5, 2016

A Measure of Last Resort? The practice of pre-trial detention decision-making in the EU

High rates of pre-trial detention is something we might think of as a problem primarily in jurisdictions where criminal justice systems lack capacity or are poorly funded. But this might be a misleading assumption. Fair Trials has published a major new report ( ‘A Measure of Last Resort? The practice of pre-trial detention decision-making in the EU’) showing the extent to which pre-trial detention is being used all over the EU without adequate justification.

Within the European Union, there are over 120,000 people being held in pre-trial detention. That’s more than 1 in 5 people incarcerated that haven’t yet been found guilty of any crime. Perhaps surprisingly, even jurisdictions which otherwise appear to have a well entrenched human rights culture, have high remand rates. In Denmark, for example, 35 percent of the prison population is made up of people who have not been convicted. The corresponding figure for the Netherlands is close to 40 percent. 

In June 2014, Fair Trials set out to collect a unique evidence base about how pre-trial detention, or detention without trial, is being used in practice across the EU. In order to gain a realistic view of the problems in practice on which to develop targeted national and regional solutions, the project ‘The Practice of Pre-Trial Detention: Monitoring Alternatives and Judicial Decision-Making’ was conducted in partnership with organisations and academics from ten EU countries and has been funded by the EU Commission.

Now complete, the report brings together the findings from across the 10 jurisdictions, as well as a wider regional experts seminar, which involved over 50 participants from 24 EU Member States.

You can access the report here

August 2, 2016

Judge orders closure of overcrowded San Sebastián prison

Costa Rica’s overcrowded San Sebastián prison that inmates describe as “hell on Earth” could be closing its gates for good after a San José judge ordered it shut down.

Sentencing Judge Roy Murillo made the decision in a July 20 resolution citing the prison’s horrid conditions and antiquated infrastructure, according to the Spanish-speaking daily La Nación. The prison currently houses 1,260 inmates, only 165 of whom have been convicted of a crime, according to the Justice Ministry. The rest are being held in pretrial detention. The prison’s stated capacity is 664 inmates.

Detainees at San Sebastián have complained to The Tico Times of inhumane conditions in overcrowded cells with minimal ventilation and so little sleeping space that some prisoners have to sleep on the floor next to urinals. One former inmate told The Tico Times that his room in cell block B-3 had more than 50 people but only eight beds, requiring him to sleep on a piece of foam while crammed in the crawl space under a bed.

The Justice Ministry said in a news release that the 165 convicted inmates from San Sebastián will be gradually relocated to other centers around the country. Prison System Director Reynaldo Villalobos said the Justice Ministry will form a commission to decide on the transfer of each inmate over the next 18 months.

The inmates in pretrial detention will be phased out as their preventive prison sentences expire, according to the Justice Ministry. Villalobos told The Tico Times on Monday that the criminal justice system has a measure of responsibility for the country’s overcrowded prisons. “We’re always limited in terms of the reforms we can make but we’re ready to act accordingly with whatever decision a judge makes.”

At a panel discussion last week alongside Villalobos, Murillo hinted at the legal decision by noting the unsanitary and inhumane conditions at San Sebastián. He compared the prison to a septic tank with a rat infestation, saying that rampant overcrowding has stripped the prisoners of essential human rights.

“If I had to be in that prison I would either kill myself or immediately become addicted to drugs,” he told the audience.

Murillo’s order to close San Sebastián is sure to generate controversy similar to that stirred up by recent orders from Murillo and other judges to release low-level prisoners in order to reduce overcrowding. Recently, Villalobos and heads of the Justice Ministry were set to release more than 350 qualifying prisoners from Gerardo Rodríguez prison in Alajuela. However, on June 13, the decision was suspended after outrage from business owners, the public and officials.

March 14, 2016

Increasing number of countries decriminalising drugs ahead of UN debate on global drug policy

Report finds decriminalisation improves public health and social outcomes, saves governments money, and does not increase drug use

Release, the UK centre for expertise on drugs and drug laws, launched a new report today highlighting the enormous benefits that decriminalising the possession of drugs for personal use brings to individuals, society and governments.

The report, ‘A Quiet Revolution: Drug Decriminalisation Across the Globe,’ analyses over 25 jurisdictions around the world that have decriminalised drugs, finding a surge toward this drug policy model in the past 15 years. Among the positive outcomes identified as a result of decriminalisation are:

  • Reduced rates of HIV transmission and fewer drug-related deaths (Portugal);

  • Improved education, housing and employment opportunities for people who use drugs (Australia);

  • Savings to the state of close to $1 billion over 10 years (California).

Furthermore, the report shows that despite critics’ fears that decriminalisation will lead to a surge in drug use this has simply not been borne out in the evidence, with drug laws revealed to have a negligible effect on drug use levels.

Niamh Eastwood, the Executive Director of Release, says: “Governments can no longer ignore the irrefutable evidence -- ending the needless criminalisation of people who use drugs brings tremendously positive outcomes for society as a whole. In England and Wales 70,000-80,000 people are criminalised annually for simple possession, despite the UK government admitting in 2014 the futility of this approach, noting it doesn’t impact on use levels. Never has drug law reform been more pressing.”

The report comes one month prior to the United Nations General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on drugs, set to be held April 19-21. It will mark the biggest debate on global drug policy in nearly two decades. As the UNGASS approaches, clear fractures have appeared in the historic consensus on punitive approaches to drug control, both in rhetoric and in practice, as the report underscores.

As it stands, 83 per cent of all drug-related offences globally are low-level, nonviolent possession offences, with governments collectively spending $100 billion annually on tackling drugs. Criminalising people who use drugs has caused public health crises in the form of HIV and hepatitis C epidemics among vulnerable populations, and resulted in a litany of human rights abuses committed in the name of drug control, including arbitrary detention, restricted access to healthcare services and executions.

In recent years, an increasing number of high-profile figures and organisations have advocated the decriminalisation of possession and use of drugs, including several UN agencies such as the World Health Organisation, UNAIDS, the United Nations Development Programme, and even the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. 


November 23, 2015 


This exclusive Al Jazeera documentary is the incredible behind-the-scenes account of one man's extraordinary battle against judicial corruption in Ghana, one of sub-Saharan Africa's most developed countries. Over the course of two years, acclaimed investigative journalist Anas Aremeyaw Anas secretly filmed 12 High Court judges, 22 other judges, and 140 other court officials accepting bribes.

Anas secretly filmed 12 High Court judges, 22 other judges, and 140 other court officials accepting bribes [Al Jazeera]

Anas secretly filmed 12 High Court judges, 22 other judges, and 140 other court officials accepting bribes [Al Jazeera]

In early September this year, despite huge pressure to keep his findings confidential, Anas released them to the Ghanaian public, unleashing an almost unprecedented crisis of confidence in the nation's judiciary - hitherto one of its most trusted and revered institutions. Justice! follows this most unconventional journalist, a qualified barrister in his own right, as these dramatic events come to a climax; revealing the complex moral and ethical dilemmas involved in an self-funded crusade that always looked likely to humble some of the most powerful men in the country, but which controversially also led to the release of alleged violent criminals from police custody. 

This film tells of the huge political and personal pressures that saw Anas put his own and his family's lives on the line. As the day of revelation drew near, the number of death threats increased and tense last-minute manoeuvring was needed to outwit the shadowy enemies trying desperately to stifle the story. The resulting scandal, which is still playing out, is changing the political landscape of the nation and its effects may be felt for years to come. As Kofi Annan, former UN secretary-general and one of Ghana's most famous sons says in the film: "Sometimes it takes a spark, just a spark, and I think Anas has provided that spark for the whole edifice to blow up."

One thing is certain - it makes for compelling viewing. Watch it on Al-Jazeera by clicking here.  

November 4, 2015

A reminder of the power of graphics 

During the last few months I have had the opportunity to be part of the process to finalise the draft bill on countering human trafficking in Laos. One problem is that the offence of human trafficking is quite complex, and this often hampers enforcement efforts. Last week, Mr. Chandu Bhandari from UNODC in Bangkok gave an excellent presentation, in which he used the graphic below to explain the offence. This simple graphic illustrates the definition perfectly. 

Article 3, paragraph (a) of the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons defines Trafficking in Persons as the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation. Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs

Article 3, paragraph (a) of the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons defines Trafficking in Persons as the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation. Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs

Practitioners in the Governance & Justice Group have often sought to use graphics to demystify the law. Examples of this are the posters explaining the criminal justice process and the concept of bail. The justice audit relies on graphics to give users a snapshot of the entire justice system. Having struggled to explain the three components of the offence of human trafficking for some time, Chandu’s graphic was a very welcome aid, which we can use when explaining when and how the offence of human trafficking is committed.   

H.E. Professor Ket Kiettisak, Vice-Minister of Justice (centre), joined by colleagues working to finalise the draft bill on countering human trafficking in the Lao PDR

H.E. Professor Ket Kiettisak, Vice-Minister of Justice (centre), joined by colleagues working to finalise the draft bill on countering human trafficking in the Lao PDR

October 27, 2015

SDGs will not be achieved without drug policy reform

Khalid Tinasti, from the Secretariat of the Global Commission on on Drug Policy, along with Commissioners Bem, Grover, Kazatchkine and Dreifuss last month wrote an opinion article in the Lancet regarding the need to implement drug policy reform in order to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).  The article can be accessed by clicking here

OCTOBER 20, 2015

UN agency in charge of drug war wants world to decriminalise all drugs

As reported by the BBC, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the agency that has overseen the global drug war for 50 years, has been blocked from announcing its momentous new position – that all countries should decriminalise the possession of drugs for personal use. The UNODC was set to unveil the position on Sunday 18th October 2015, at the Harm Reduction International Conference, in a short briefing paper (PDF) which states that: “Member States should consider the implementation of measures to promote the right to health and to reduce prison-overcrowding, including by decriminalising drug use and possession for personal consumption”. This comes in the midst of the debate here in Laos around a new drug policy, and is yet another sign of the growing momentum for reform of global, regional, and national drug policies. 

Welcoming the new UNODC stance, Richard Branson took the opportunity to quote Richard Nixon - who launched the so called war on drugs, which the UNODC has been pursuing ever since its founding. “Greatness comes in simple trappings,” Richard Nixon once said. It seems appropriate to quote the man who started the failed war on drugs to applaud good efforts to end it.

September 29, 2015

innocent until proven guilty - in practice

Participants from all institutions of the criminal justice system attending the workshop to finalise the manual on evidence in criminal cases.

Participants from all institutions of the criminal justice system attending the workshop to finalise the manual on evidence in criminal cases.

Over the last few months, the Office of the Supreme People’s Prosecutor in Laos has been drafting a manual on how to collect, manage, and use evidence in criminal cases. I have had the privilege to be invited, from time to time, to comment and to discuss ideas with the drafting committee. I confess that the topic might, at first glance, have struck me as somewhat mundane, but my interactions the with police and prosecutors here in Laos have proven me wrong. It has been a great learning experience. We are currently holding the final consultative meeting here in Paksan. Allow me to reproduce a section from this morning's opening remarks, as I think these lines illustrate why this manual is so critical.

Many people may think this is just another manual, just another publication. But this is far more than just a manual. It is a tool for safeguarding the most fundamental principle of our criminal justice system: the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty.

This evidence manual allows us to apply that principle in practice. It sets out, in great detail, how the state must proceed to identify, collect and use evidence so as to satisfy the burden of proof. The presumption of innocence can only be effective, in practice, if the state has the ability to gather and to use evidence in a court of law. And so, to the degree that this manual improves that ability, it will help give effect to the principle that everyone who is suspected or accused of having committed a criminal offence, is innocent until proven guilty.

And that, distinguished participants, makes this manual into something of a milestone. For what is a law worth, however well intended, if it cannot be implemented? Surly, the rule of law demands that the laws and the legal principles to which we all pay homage, be given full effect

Marcus Baltzer

August 26, 2015

Doing Time, Doing Vipassana

This is the story of an ancient meditation technique named Vipassana, which shows people how to take control of their lives and channel them toward their own good. It is the story of a woman named Kiran Bedi, the former Inspector General of Prisons in New Delhi, who strove to transform the notorious Tihar Prison. But most of all it is the story of prison inmates who underwent profound change, and who realised that incarceration is not the end but possibly a fresh start toward an improved and more positive life.

JUly 24, 2015

A Justice snapshot of central equatoria

The GJG is part of the British Council led consortium to support Access to Justice in South Sudan (funded by the EU and DFID). In the course of July, Heather Goldsmith and Adam Stapleton undertook a Justice Snapshot in Central Equatoria State in association with the South Sudan Law Society. The Justice Snapshot was undertaken to illustrate the utility of data and of visualising the justice process, so as to encourage the justice institutions to consent to a national Justice Snapshot that can be updated at regular intervals. The draft version can be viewed here

Heather Goldsmith (GJG), Joseph Abeya (UNOCHA) and Adam Stapleton (GJG) - the team that designed the Justice Snapshot of Central Equatoria State, South Sudan

Heather Goldsmith (GJG), Joseph Abeya (UNOCHA) and Adam Stapleton (GJG) - the team that designed the Justice Snapshot of Central Equatoria State, South Sudan

JUNE 26, 2015

narcotics go up in smoke on day against drugs

More than 30 kg of amphetamine tablets, 42 kg of cannabis, 10 kg of crystal methamphetamine, and 3 kg of heroin were set ablaze in Vientiane today to demonstrate the authorities’ stance against drugs on the 28th International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking. The drugs, which had been confiscated from dealers and traffickers, were burned at the That Luang esplanade, in the presence of the Mayor of Vientiane Dr Sinlavong Khouthphaythoun, and officials from the Ministry of Public Security and the National Commission for Drug Control. GJG co-director Marcus Baltzer is currently working with the  National Commission for Drug Control to draft the new Drug Control Master Plan for the Lao PDR. 

GJG co-director, Marcus Baltzer, takes part in the ceremony to mark the international day against drug abuse and illicit trafficking in Vientiane. Photo: UNODC

GJG co-director, Marcus Baltzer, takes part in the ceremony to mark the international day against drug abuse and illicit trafficking in Vientiane. Photo: UNODC

JUNE 16, 2015

Drugs: War or Store?

For 20 years The Economist has led calls for a rethink on drug prohibition. This film looks at new approaches to drugs policy, from Portugal to Colorado. Officials and practitioners from all over the world are interviewed by Economist Films to discuss the effects of the drug war and the need to move towards responsible regulation. You can view the whole film below. 

June 5, 2015


Do you know of any financial service provider that can offer a guaranteed return on investment of at least 4 dollars, with very good chances of earning as much as 12 dollars, for every dollar invested? No, you don’t, because not even the most savvy brokers, bankers or traders can generate such extremely high yields on the financial markets. But, if you happen to be a policy-maker in a country where there are people who are addicted to heroin or other opioids, then you have chance to take advantage of this unbeatable offer:

According to several conservative estimates, every dollar invested in opioid dependence treatment programmes may yield a return of between $4 and $7 in reduced drug-related crime, criminal justice costs and theft alone. When savings related to health care are included, total savings can exceed costs by a ratio of 12:1.’ (Source: Substitution maintenance therapy in the management of opioid dependence and HIV/AIDS prevention, World Health Organization, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, UNAIDS

These estimates are based on decades for research compiled by UNODC, WHO and UNAIDS. Click here to download their full position paper. What country can afford to ignore evidence of this kind?

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June 1, 2015

‘Mandela Rules’ on prisoner treatment adopted

The United Nations Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice (CCPCJ or Crime Commission) adopted revised Standard Minimum Rules (SMR) for the Treatment of Prisoners at its 24th session last week. The adoption of the revised Rules – to be known as the ‘the Mandela Rules’ – is a historic moment for the treatment of prisoners and improvement of prison conditions. The existing version of the Rules are 60 years old and, whilst a useful and much used blueprint for prison operations worldwide, had been superseded by newer criminal justice and human rights standards and were widely considered to be ready for renewal. The revision focused on nine thematic areas, including healthcare in prisons, investigations of deaths in custody, disciplinary measures, professionalising prison staff and independent inspections. In particular, the revised Rules introduce for the first time in international standards a limitation on the use of solitary confinement and provide guidance on the use of searches, notably strict regulation of intrusive searches of prisoners. The full text of the resolution can be downloaded from the UNODC website


MAY 29, 2015

manual on evidence in criminal justice

The ability to identify, collect, analyse and use evidence is fundamental to the functioning of the criminal justice system. However, this ability requires both specialised training and equipment. In many jurisdictions therefore, convictions are mostly based on confessions, with little or no corroborating evidence. The Office of the Supreme Public Prosecutor (OSPP) in Laos, along with a group of national experts, has been working on a Prosecutor’s Manual on Evidence in Criminal Cases. Through the support of the UNODC, GJG practitioners were brought in to work with the expert group to review the draft and provide technical inputs on a number of subjects. Today the expert group presented its findings before an audience of criminal justice practitioners. Several recommendations were agreed upon, including the principle that a confession or a guilty plea alone cannot be sufficient to prove guilt beyond reasonable doubt, and that corroborating evidence is always necessary in order to reach a guilty verdict.

Mr. Bun-Nyang, Vice President of the OSPP, addresses the participants.

Mr. Bun-Nyang, Vice President of the OSPP, addresses the participants.


may 24, 2015

Global prison trends 2015

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The absolute numbers behind bars on remand or serving sentences have increased in many countries since the turn of the millennium.  Over the last fifteen years or so, prison populations have seen particularly sharp rises in Latin America, where Brazil has seen a 150 per cent increase, Colombia a 125 per cent increase and Mexico, 53 per cent. In Asia, particularly steep rises in the use of prison have been seen in Indonesia (183 per cent) and Vietnam (136 per cent). Prison numbers rose by 58 per cent in the Philippines and by 38 per cent in Iran. Thailand’s prison population fell between 2001 and 2007 but then rose again – its 325,000 prisoners in 2014 amounted to 30 per cent more than in 2001. India’s prison numbers rose by a similar percentage between 2001 and 2013.

Here in Laos, where work in underway to revise the penal code, the report comes as a timely interjection of evidence and comparative data. The ever growing body of evidence around criminal justice globally means that policy makers no longer have to depend on ideology or gut feeling when reforming criminal justice - it can now be done based on facts and statistics on what types of polices are likely to lead to what results. PRI's Global Prison Trends report 2015 is a very good example of this. 

One of the most relevant sections of the report here in Laos is the special section on drugs and imprisonment. The enforcement of drug laws has major implications for the use and practice of imprisonment the world over. The special feature on drugs and imprisonment seeks to map out the various ways in which a country’s drug policy impacts on its prisons. In Laos, where drug offences are the most commonly prosecuted offences, we cannot afford to repeat the mistakes from around the world, which have led to the phenomenon now known as 'mass-incarceration'. Hopefully, we'll be able to learn the lessons from other countries, as opposed to learning them by experiencing the lessons for ourselves. Please download the full report from here

FEBRUARY 27, 2015

لقاء مركزنا مع وزارة الخارجية الدنماركية

بناء على دعوة وزارة الخارجية الدنماركية وفريقها العامل على تقييم نتائج دعم الحكومة الدنماركية في سوريا وبحيث كانت وزارة الخارجية الدنماركية هي التي تمول الفدرالية الدولية لحقوق الانسان لتنفيذ مشروع مركز التآخي منذ انطلاقه يناير 2013التقى الزميل المدير العام للمركز ميرآل بروردا برفقة الزميلة منسقة العلاقات العامة في المركز ميديا دهير صباح يوم الجمعة بممثلين عن الخارجية الدنماركية في استنبول, حيث دار الحديث عن انجازات المركز خلال العامين المنصرمين.

أثنت الخارجية الدنماركية على ما حققه المركز في سبيل دعم حقوق الإنسان والطفل والمرأة, كما أبدوا اعجابهم بالتقدم الملحوظ المُنتج للمركز وتحديداً على صعيد برنامج التوعية الحقوقية للمجتمعات المحلية الذي استطاع توفير كوادر حقوقية مُتدرّبة ومُدرّبة في وقت قياسي كما ثمنّت الخارجية جهود المركز في عملية التغيير الديمقراطي للمجتمع.

في نهاية اللقاء قدّم الزميل المدير العام للمركز جائزة "أصدقاء التآخي" للخارجية الدنماركية وذلك للدعم المستمر الذي توفّره الدنمارك للمشاريع التنموية والمُفضية لترسيخ ثقافة حقوق الإنسان  في سوريا والعالم.

حيث مثّل الخارجية الدنماركية في اللقاء:

السيدة:  Mette Bastholm Jensen

السيد: Marcus Baltzer

وكان قد سبق أن كرّمت الزميلة ميديا دهير, السيدة ماري رئيسة مكتب الشرق الأوسط وشمال أفريقيا في الفيدرالية الدولية لحقوق الإنسان بجائزة أصدقاء التآخي.

FEBRUARY 12, 2015

What goes up, must come down: the role of open data in improving aid accountability

The Global Development Network in association with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation recently published the list of winning entrants to its open essay on improving foreign aid – available for download from here. One of the winning essays by Susannah Robinson: ‘What goes up, must come down’: the role of open data in improving aid accountability, is available for download from here. You can read more about this, as well as Adam Stapleton's contribution to the competition, on the GJG blog

February 9, 2015

The 2014 annual report submitted

The directorate of the GJG has sent its report covering the period January 1st to December 31st, 2014 to the advisory board. The report describes the various projects that GJG undertook during the year, and reflects on some of the main achievements and challenges encountered. The report will be followed up on through an ongoing dialogue with the advisory board to inform GJG priorities and strategy in 2015. A summary of the report is available for download here

January 15, 2015

An Interview with Clifford Msiska

Clifford Msiska was instrumental in the drafting and adoption of the Lilongwe Declaration on Access to Legal Aid back in 2004. Over 10 years have now passed, and Clifford has continued his dedicated work to implement the Declaration, all over world, through the Paralegal Advisory Service Institute. We caught up with him in the city where it all started; in Lilongwe, and asked him to reflect a little over what has happened in the past decade.

Clifford Msiska, founder of the Paralegal Advisory Service in Malawi and a global advocate for primary justice services around the world, here being interviewed about the 10 years that have passed since the adoption for the Lilongwe Declaration on Access to Legal Aid.

Clifford Msiska, founder of the Paralegal Advisory Service in Malawi and a global advocate for primary justice services around the world, here being interviewed about the 10 years that have passed since the adoption for the Lilongwe Declaration on Access to Legal Aid.

You were one of the founders of the Paralegal Advisory Service (PAS) in 2000. What developments have you seen over the years in Malawi and in the region? The PAS has always taken a developmental approach, adapting our services to the needs and problems the paralegals observe in the prisons, courts, police and community. I think this is one of the reasons the PAS has retained its relevance over time.

Can you give an example of that? So for instance we asked Fazlul Haq in Bangladesh to help us introduce and adapt his mediation model in our villages in Malawi to provide a safe and confidential space for women especially to resolve their problems. After a pilot we are now working nationally. We have trained hundreds of village mediators.

Do you pay them? No, they are volunteers.

So what’s the incentive for them? Their standing in the community. This is important in a face to face community. A Chief may be a poor man if you only look to his material assests, but he is a Big Man in his area, same with village mediators. We also provide them with a bicycle to get about and mobile phones to be in touch with paralegals.

How about the paralegals? Paralegals have also been scaled up and we are placing them out in rural court stations. They supervise and link up with the village mediators, divert people from police and provide a range of legal services at the frontline of the justice system in police, courts and prisons to push them through the system, link them to the legal aid department and lawyers, trace sureties to assist them get out on bail and help them to help themselves. For this we thank the support from our donors such as DFID, the EU and GIZ.

 Are you still working in partnership with justice agencies? This is key to our work. Paralegals work under a Code of Conduct agreed with prisons and police and we have seen how these partnerships over time have strengthened – not only with prisons and police, but also with the judiciary, legal aid and law society. I am pleased and relieved at the recognition we have won.

 What about regionally what do you see? We have helped our brothers and sisters introduce PAS in a number of countries from Kenya and Uganda to the east, Sierra Leone and Nigeria to the west and Sudan to the north. We have hosted study tours from Liberia, Rwanda, Tanzania, Zambia etc to see what we are about. I’d say recognition of the role of paralegals has grown and objections are falling away as lawyers and judges see that they are like paramedics working to doctors in the health sector. We have a momentum gathering and it is wonderful.

You were part of the organization of the Lilongwe conference on legal aid in 2004. In  the ten years since the Lilongwe Declaration on Accessing Legal Aid in Africa what changes have you seen at the regional and international levels? I’d say the main change is that governments can no longer say: we cannot afford legal aid, we are too poor. The PAS has demonstrated that legal aid services can be provided that are meaningful to people in conflict with the law and affordable to the state. And governments in the region are increasingly recognizing this. New legal aid legislation in East and West Africa is recognizing the role of paralegals. Internationally, we see the PAS in Bangladesh being scaled up to national level and further interest in South Asia. The UN Principles and Guidelines on Legal Aid in Criminal Justice Systems adopted by the UNGA in 2013 are clearly rooted in the Lilongwe Declaration and have given our work a considerable boost.

You must be proud of what you have accomplished? Yes and No. I am proud of what we have done for the many thousands of individuals who have benefited from paralegal assistance. And I am pleased that the PAS is seen as a flexible model that can be adapted anywhere. But...accomplishment is about change: system change and change in mentality. We hold people in prison because they are poor and not because they are a threat to themselves or others. Have we accomplished this change? No. Not yet.

DECEMBER 10, 2014

A video on the cia torture report

The Open Society Foundation today released the video below, as a commentary to the Senate report on CIA interrogation techniques. George Soros says that 'the American people need to know what was done in their name. The litany of horrific interrogation techniques detailed in the report—including waterboarding, sleep deprivation, and forcing prisoners to stand shackled for hours on end—should help persuade those who still wish to deny that torture was conducted so that we can make sure this never happens again.' The full report can be downloaded from the US Senate website. 

NOVEMBER 18, 2014

meeting with the chief justice of kenya

Adam Stapleton today met with the Honourable Chief Justice of Kenya, Dr. Willy Mutunga, to discuss taking forward the Judiciary Transformation Framework with EU support. 

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Dr. Mutunga was appointed to the Supreme Court of Kenya on June 22, 2011. He has established and served in many civil society organisations, including Kituo Cha Sheria (the Legal Advice Centre). In the 1980’s he was detained for 16 months on account of his political and social activism. Dr. Mutunga has received several national and international honours and awards for his outstanding contribution to the development of law, human rights, good governance and social justice. 

November 11, 2014

Updates to the Justice Audit (five districts) Bangladesh

In response to user feedback, the JA team has added some interactive guidance features to the webpage in order to help users access and analyse the data they need. The URL remains the same:

We welcome and appreciate all user feedback. Any suggestions, comments or questions you may have will help us develop the service further, and thereby facilitate evidence based policymaking in the justice sector, in Bangladesh and elsewhere. 

November 6, 2014

Human Rights Committee clarifies limits on detention

The UN Human Rights Committee has issued an authoritative new commentary on one of the most important issues in international human rights law – when and how is it justified to deprive a person of their liberty, and what obligations do states have to avoid people being unlawfully or arbitrarily detained.

The new General Comment concerns Article 9 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which covers liberty and security of person. It codifies the Committee’s work over the past three decades on this issue to give government officials, legal practitioners, human rights monitors and civil society a full understanding of the Committee's views.

The General Comment covers a wide range of issues under Article 9, including the definition of arbitrary detention and the procedural safeguards necessary for avoiding unlawful and arbitrary detention, such as the 48-hour standard for promptly bringing a criminal suspect before a judge. It reiterates that the ‘reasonableness of any delay in bringing the case to trial has to be assessed in the circumstances of each case, taking into account the complexity of the case, the conduct of the accused during the proceeding and the manner in which the matter was dealt with by the executive and judicial authorities.’ However, while 'impediments to the completion of the investigation may justify additional time, general conditions of understaffing or budgetary constraint do not.' Thus, reasons such as the courts being clogged, lack of transport to take detainees to court, or there not being enough staff in the courts to hear the case – excuses that GJG practitioners often come across – are all clearly invalid . The General Comment goes on to state that ‘when delays become necessary, the judge must reconsider alternatives to pre-trial detention.' And if the length of time that the defendant has been detained ‘reaches the length of the highest sentence that could be imposed for the crimes charged, the defendant should be released.’

Several countries, in which the GJG works, have, as part of their penal codes, a list of ‘non-bailable’ offences – offences in respect of which bail can never be obtained. The General Comment, however, notes that ‘pretrial detention should not be mandatory for all defendants charged with a particular crime, without regard to individual circumstances.’ 

Please download the full text of General Comment number 35 here


October 8, 2014

New documentary on Kenya's prisoners-turned-paralegals

Wilson Harling Kinyua is serving a life sentence inside one of Africa's toughest jails - Kamiti Maximum Security prison in Nairobi. He's been there for 16 years. The way he tells it, he was an innocent bystander as an armed robbery played out nearby. 

But that's not how the authorities saw it. He was arrested and charged for being involved. Without access to a lawyer and unable to call on a character witness to vouch for his honesty, the young college student was convicted and despatched to Kamiti where he's protested his innocence ever since. Without a legal-aid system and with a critical shortage of lawyers and a courts choked with an insurmountable backlog of cases there wouldn't appear to be much hope of Harling ever overturning his conviction and regaining his freedom. Unless of course he was encouraged and enabled to make the case himself. Harling is one of many inmates who've taken the opportunity to learn about criminal law, participate in mock trials and review and critique judgments to become effective and persuasive paralegals. It's a phenomenon sweeping Kenya's prisons, relieving the pressures on the nation's legal system and that's seeing profound injustices corrected, convictions quashed and prisoners who might've languished unrepresented for epic jail terms, set free. 

Kamiti Prison in Nairobi. Photo: Tomfots

Kamiti Prison in Nairobi. Photo: Tomfots

Foreign Correspondent's Sally Sara, of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation goes behind bars to explore this unorthodox yet wildly successful criminal justice program working from the inside out. She gains access to prisoners-turned-paralegals, supporters of the program like Kenya's Chief Justice and to its architect and principal promoter, one of the highest ranking women in the Kenyan Prison Service, Wanini Kireri. Watch the film here

September 24, 2014

The Justice Audit presented in Dhaka today

The Justice Audit (JA) from five pilot districts in Bangladesh was presented in Dhaka today. The presentation was followed by a questions and answers session, in which valuable feedback was provided that will help further improve the utility of the JA. The Honourable Minister of Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs, Mr Anisul Huq, MP, delivered the key note address, in which he noted that: 

'the Justice Audit provides clear insight into the criminal justice system, not just for politicians and government officials, but also for the media, civil society, other stakeholders and the public as a whole. The transparency of the Justice Audit System will help inform the current situation and generate debate, which in turn will stimulate valuable inputs into the reform work.'

The head of the Justice Audit, Johann Kriegler, presenting the Justice Audit in Dhaka today.

The head of the Justice Audit, Johann Kriegler, presenting the Justice Audit in Dhaka today.

The Honourable Minister's full speech is available to download here. In keeping with that spirit, we are happy to share with you the link to the JA, which is available at: The GJG would like to take the opportunity to thank all partners, colleagues, and friends who have been involved in and contributed to the JA in the five districts. আপনাকে অনেক ধন্যবাদ

September 21, 2014

JA team arriving in Dhaka

This week, Kathryn English, Johann Kriegler and Eric Cadora will be presenting the Justice Audit (JA) from five pilot district to the meeting chaired by Mr. Anisul Huq, MP, Honourable Minister, Ministry of Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs. The meeting is an opportunity to discuss both the data and analysis, and recommendation from the meeting will help further improve the JA. 

The invitation card to the Justice Audit presentation.

The invitation card to the Justice Audit presentation.

September 8, 2014

First international guidance on addressing needs of children of incarcerated parents launched in South Africa

From 3–5 September 2014, Keeping Children Safe (KCS) held an international conference in Cape Town to promote the Child Safeguarding Standards. As part of the conference programme, PRI – represented by Alison Hannah, PRI’s Executive Director and Jenny Clarkin, PRI Programme Officer – co-organised the launch of the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child’s (ACERWC) first General Comment, which addresses the protection of children of imprisoned parents.

Children with parents in prison are among the most vulnerable groups of children, and the impact on their rights and welfare remains largely unacknowledged in the criminal justice system. Children often fall through the cracks created by poor social welfare provision, wholly inadequate protection for children living in prisons – almost always with their mothers – and lack of clarity in law, policy and procedure as to how to respond to them in a way that acts in their best interests.

An illustration from 'A short guide to General Comment No.1: Children of incarcerated and imprisoned parents and primary caretakers'

An illustration from 'A short guide to General Comment No.1: Children of incarcerated and imprisoned parents and primary caretakers'

Research confirms the damaging effect on children when a parent is imprisoned. In England research found that 65% of boys with a convicted parent went on to offend in later life. Another study in four European countries suggested that children with a parent in prison may be up to two and a half times more likely than other children to experience mental health problems. In the USA a recent study found that having a parent in prison can be more detrimental to a child’s well-being than divorce or death of a parent. These children are very vulnerable and at risk and the General Comment provides valuable guidelines for protecting their rights.

The General Comment (relating to Article 30 of the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child) is a unique provision in human rights law. It recognises that children with a parent in prison are likely to face financial and material hardship, psychological damage and social stigma. It calls for non-custodial sanctions to be considered first when sentencing a parent or caregiver. If a custodial sentence is being considered, the court should find out if the offender is a primary caregiver and consider the effect of a prison sentence on the children concerned. Where a range of sentences are appropriate, the court must use the principle of the best interests of the child as an important guide in deciding which sentence to impose. Courts should also consider childcare responsibilities in deciding whether to impose pre-trial detention as these may be a good indication that the defendant is unlikely to abscond.

January 1, 2014

Civics Lessons: How Certain Schemes to End Mass Incarceration Can Fail 

Over the last decade the United States has witnessed an unprecedented wave of criminal justice reforms aimed at reducing or reversing the mass incarceration juggernaut and its consequences, which swept over the country from 1973 through the early years of the new millennium. There are nascent indications that what some have called the nation’s long experiment with mass incarceration has reached a plateau and is levelling out. For the first time in decades, the country has witnessed three consecutive years (2010, 2011, and 2012) of very slight decreases in the national prison population.

Plummeting crime rates, beginning during the economic boom years of the 1990s, have led to the decline of crime as a public concern far below other national priorities. Yet the unrelenting increase in the proportion of state budgets being encumbered by rising prison costs continued unabated and left many in state government wondering why the historic drop in crime did not pay dividends in reduced state prison populations and correctional budgets. In this article, Eric Cadora, Director of the Justice Mapping Centre, explains why.  

The GJG in 2013

The Justice Audit

·          Justice Audit (Malaysia)
 ·         Justice Audit (Bangladesh/5 districts) available in September 2014

A country Justice Audit creates a central, web-based, resource for governments, justice service providers, civil society and external partners to inform justice sector reforms and planning. The focus is on a data-driven approach, which takes into account specific local conditions, captures data across the whole justice system (including customary and non-state justice mechanisms where applicable), engages government directly in the collection and analysis of its own data, and leaves it with the software infrastructure to conduct periodic audits of future years’ data going forward. Aside from providing a spectrum of data on the criminal justice system in a country, the Justice Audit visualizes the criminal justice system through a series of ‘snapshots’ of the system at work illustrating points of pressure and challenges that emerge through the data and points to options for improvements based on the data and good practices. The GJG completed the Justice Audit (Malaysia) in partnership with the International Centre for Law and Legal Studies (I-CeLLS in Putrajaya) and Justice Mapping Systems (New York). The Bangladesh Ministry of Law, Justice and Constitutional Affairs commissioned a Justice Audit of five districtsthrough German Development Co-operation (GIZ). The GJG with Justice Mapping Systems joined with the Bluhm Legal Clinic at Northwestern University’s School of Law (Chicago) to conduct the Justice Audit (Bangladesh/5 districts). As in Malaysia, the JA was tailored to the country context. 

Other assignments 

Elsewhere, the GJG through its associates and fellows has worked in Afghanistan (training national police trainers on the application of legal aid services at police stations, with EUPOL), Ethiopia and Kenya (providing a range of mediation services), Malawi (in support of USAID’s governance programme), Nigeria (in support of the Legal Aid Council and expansion of mediation services with the British Council), South Sudan (DFID: Access to Justice Programme, with the British Council), Cambodia (carrying out a feasibility study for a JA with a focus on gender based violence) and Vietnam (reviewing the Justice Partnership Programme).

For further information contact: Eric Cadora ( or Kathryn English ( or Prof Tom Geraghty (