Access to justice and the role of law schools in developing countries: Some lessons from South Africa: Part 2: 1990 until the present


  • D. J. McQuoid-Mason Advocate of the High Court of South Africa & University of Natal, South Africa


Access to justice in South Africa improved dramatically during the 1990s, especially after the introduction of a constitutional democracy in 1994. Although the Constitution guarantees access to legal representation in criminal cases this has posed new challenges for law schools and law clinics regarding civil cases. The right to legal representation in civil matters has not been tested in the Constitutional Court, and the burden of providing this service is increasingly falling on NGOs and law clinics, particularly in respect of social and economic rights. This has led to exciting new opportunities such as law clinics and NGOs entering into formal partnerships with the state-funded legal aid scheme to assist in the delivery of legal services and advice. As a result law clinic operations have become more focused and more sophisticated. At the same time “Street law” programmes are assisting the government in achieving its mission of promoting a culture of legality, human rights and democracy. The South African experience is that law schools in developing countries can make a significant contribution to access to justice in both repressive and democratic political environments. They can do likewise in educating ordinary citizens about their legal rights. What sets developing countries apart from developed countries is that law schools in the former have a special duty to serve their communities. This is because they often operate as a privileged island in a sea of scarce resources, particularly when it comes to providing access to justice for the poor.


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