This article reviews the background and content of the Principles and Guidelines on Access to Legal Aid in Criminal Justice Systems, adopted by the U.N. General Assembly in December 2012, to consider its objectives and potential. As with similar international agreements, the Principles and Guidelines is not legally binding and requires further legislative action to be implemented. This article demonstrates how urgent the need for legal aid reform is and raises realistic expectations about what the international instrument can achieve in this regard. In stressing the urgent need for reforms of legal aid systems, the discussion uses the European Union as an example because of the extensive comparative analysis available and because of the recent European Union Roadmap for Criminal Procedural Rights that aims, inter alia, to improve access to legal aid. To strengthen further the argument, attention also will be paid to the problems surrounding legal aid in the United States, which will indicate some of the Principles and Guidelines’ limitations. Furthermore, the path of implementation of an earlier United Nations General Assembly Resolution will be outlined to articulate what reasonable expectations can be placed on the Principles and Guidelines’ approach to ensuring access to legal aid.
- legal aid
- fundamental rights
- United Nations General Assembly
- criminal justice
- European Union
- United States
- victims’ rights
- © 2014 by the Regents of the University of California.