A human right to legal aid

Abstract

If legal aid means nothing more than legal representation in court, then to that extent there is a right to legal aid, although of limited availability. It is a right that has been found to be implicit, in various legal systems and in human rights instruments. But a right to legal aid could mean so much more than a limited right to legal representation. I argue for legal aid in its broadest sense as a fundamental human right, guaranteeing public access not only to legal institutions and legal representation, but as well to legal information, legal advice, and legal education and knowledge. The key to establishing a right to a broader idea of legal aid lies in understanding the role of the state from a human rights perspective rather than a welfarist one. After reviewing cases and human rights treaties that describe a right to legal representation, I conclude that even that right is available only in limited circumstances. I then outline a new argument for a fundamental human right not only to legal representation, but to 'legal aid' more broadly understood.

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