Rule of law

Rule of law as a value in itself and its relevance to other sectors

The rule of law is an essential element of democracy, the market economy, human rights and gender equality. It is the foundation for personal development based on self-determination. The rule of law is thus a value in itself.

But the rule of law also has an impact on other sectors. Thus a reliable, independent legal and judicial system is vital for a state under the rule of law. In many of our partner countries, this has not yet been achieved. Courts and judges are often dependent on political decision-making chains, which makes them less effective and efficient. Moreover, judicial staff often lack the know-how that would enable them to justify decisions so that those affected can understand them. And corruption in and around the judiciary is another large problem.

Our clients and commissioning parties are motivated by various political objectives in their desire to promote the rule of law. These include protecting human rights, improving the climate for investment, preventing crises and fighting corruption, for example by setting up administrative courts.

Whatever the context, our efforts to promote legal and judicial systems under the rule of law always take into account the impact of these at various levels. This includes law-making, the application of law and law enforcement as well as access to justice. We always regard customary law and non-state law as an important factor when building strategies and promoting the rule of law. We work on behalf of the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ).

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Access to Justice

According to international human rights standards, every human being is entitled to assert their rights before a court. This equality of Access to Justice is a fundamental right. It includes the right to a lawyer, to legal aid where appropriate, and to fair proceedings. Access to Justice in criminal proceedings is especially important. In developing countries, scarce resources and shortcomings in the legal system mean that the poorer sections of the population are usually disadvantaged. Prisoners awaiting trial often have no legal assistance. Many are unaware of their rights, and spend months or sometimes years in custody awaiting a date for their trial. Particularly defenceless groups include women, children and young people. When they come into contact with the police and the legal system, they are often denied even the most elementary basic rights.

Approaches to solving these problems focus on improving cooperation between the judicial system, the penal system and the police. Rapid legal aid can be provided in prisons through paralegals. These paralegals work for civil society organisations and their lawyers. Another approach involves settling civil law cases and minor criminal law cases out of court, for instance through mediation, alternatives to imprisonment or victim-offender reconciliation. Social reintegration and violence prevention are also important topics in this context.

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The legal and judicial systems

Direct or indirectly, legal and judicial reforms almost always affect resources of power and the rules by which power is wielded. Legal and judicial reforms are therefore highly specific to the political context of the country concerned, and are often one component of a comprehensive change process within a political system.

GIZ takes the view that a promising strategy for legal and judicial reform will focus on the three levels of legislation, the implementation of legislation and the enforcement of legislation, while at the same time integrating the wider political context and dynamics. This means that activities to strengthen the ministry of justice, court management and the courts themselves, including administrative and criminal courts, and bailiffs, must be organised and facilitated as a process.

In GIZ’s experience, law enforcement in criminal law means making practical efforts to improve custodial conditions in prisons. It also includes promoting structural links to the public prosecutor’s office, the courts, the police and the legal profession.

Contact

Dr. Elisabeth Leiss
elisabeth.leiss@giz.de


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