Legal Aid Scheme of the Court
In 2012, the African Court on Human and People’s Rights (Court) set up the Legal Aid Scheme of the Court to support unrepresented Applicants to access free legal assistance services in their cases before the Court in the interest of justice and within the limits of the financial resources available. The Legal Aid Scheme is governed by the Legal Aid Policy which was first adopted in December 2012 and as reviewed in 2016. It is managed by the Legal Aid Unit of the Court on behalf of the Registrar of the Court. The funding from the Scheme is currently derived from the Court’s operational budget [composed of assessed contributions of the Member States of the African Union].
Article 10(2) of the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Establishment of the African Court on Human and People’s Rights provides that “Any party to a case shall be entitled to be represented by a legal representative of the party’s choice. Free legal representation may be provided where the interests of justice so require.”
Rule 31 of the new Rules of the Court adopted on 26 June 2020, provides for representation and legal assistance. It states that:
- Every party to a case shall be entitled to be represented or to be assisted by counsel and/or by any other person of the party’s choice.
- Pursuant to Article 10 (2) of the Protocol, the Court may, upon request or suo motu, decide to provide, in the interest of justice and within the limits of the financial resources available, free legal assistance to any party at any stage of the proceedings.
- The Court shall maintain a Legal Aid scheme for the purpose of implementing this Rule.
- The Court shall collaborate with the AU Commission in the management of the African Union Legal Aid Fund for African Union Human Rights Organs.”
The Code of Conduct for Counsel appearing before the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights provides guidance to counsel on the appropriate conduct towards the Court and their clients in the course of representation before the Court. The Code complements the provisions of the Rules of Court and Practice Directions. The Legal Aid Policy, 2016 provides for management of the Scheme.
Criteria for granting legal aid
Only individuals and groups of individuals acting solely or jointly can qualify for free legal assistance. Legal assistance may be requested at the time of filing the application or any time thereafter preferably using the Application Form for Legal Assistance/Aid or in the Application instituting the action. Legal assistance is granted if the Applicant has demonstrated indigence, for equality of arms and if it is in the interest of justice. Legal assistance can be granted at the request of the Applicant or suo motu, at the Courts own instance.
How to apply for legal aid?
The simple steps are:
- Complete the Application Form for Legal Assistance/ and send by mail, courier service, fax, or email.
If by courier service, send to the:
Registry of African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights
P. O. Box 6274, Arusha, Tanzania
- Attach any relevant documentation
- The request will be processed in thirty (30) working days
- The Applicant will be notified of the result of the request. If legal aid is granted, Counsel will be identified to represent the Applicant and thereafter the Applicant will be provided with his or her Counsel’s contact information l
- The Registry will then transfer the case to Counsel and the Applicant and Respondent State will be notified accordingly.
- Counsel will commence work on the case and will share periodic reports on the legal aid services rendered with the Registry.
One need not be a lawyer to represent a party before this Court [Rule 31(1)]. However, only Counsel registered on the Court’s Roster can be designated to represent Applicants who are granted legal aid by the Court. The Court also collaborates with recognized continental and regional organisations that provide pro bono legal aid services to in providing such representation
Roster for Counsel Providing of Pro Bono (free) Legal Aid Services
The Court maintains a Roster for Legal Counsel who can be designated to provide free legal assistance to Applicants. There is no timeline for application, therefore applications are received and processed on a rolling basis. The list of Counsel on the Roster can be accessed from the following link
The criteria for enrollment of legal professionals to the Roster as provided under the Legal Aid Policy of the Court, is that:
- counsel must be a national of an African Union Member State;
- counsel must be entitled to practice in any African Union Member State or before international tribunals; and
- counsel must have at least five (5) years of professional experience.
The Application form can be accessed at the following link.
Once counsel is registered on the Court Roster, they undertake a training conducted by the Court to familiarise them with the procedures before the Court in order to effectively and efficiently represent Applicants. Counsel are selected to represent Applicants from the Roster based on the following criteria:
- geographical location of the applicant;
- language of the applicant;
- the legal system of the applicant’s case;
- the subject matter of the application and specialization of counsel;
- availability and willingness of counsel;
- availability of funds;
- gender considerations; and
- past performance of counsel in rendering legal services.