Making access to justice a reality for all

Despite access to justice being a core fundamental right, barriers prevent many from exercising this legal right. European Day of Justice on 25 October serves to remind us of the need to improve access to justice and raise awareness of the key role this right plays in itself and in enabling other rights to be claimed.

FRA research has shown that access to justice remains problematic in a number of EU Member States. This is due to several factors ranging from low rights awareness to public funding cuts having an impact on the judiciary and legal aid – but also other bodies than courts, such as national human rights institutions.

To counter this, FRA continues to provide evidence-based advice to EU and national policy makers to improve awareness of and access to justice. This includes investigating how to remove existing obstacles that hinder people’s ability to access justice, including groups such as children and migrants.

Recent examples of this include:

  • The development of a handbook on access to justice highlighting and summarising the key European laws related to access to justice. It aims to raise awareness and knowledge about this right amongst judges and legal practitioners, as well as relevant intermediaries such as non-governmental organisations and other bodies involved in assisting victims in accessing justice.
  • The Clarity online tool which allows users to easily access information on non-judicial bodies dealing with fundamental rights issues. It has been developed as a pilot to assist users find the right body for the right issue where they live. For example, if someone feels that their fundamental rights have been violated, they may not know who to turn to for assistance. Clarity can point them in the right direction.

Improving access to justice also has a direct impact on other rights and the enjoyment of the rights of some of the more vulnerable parts of society.

Many children, for example, are involved in judicial proceedings such as divorce or criminal cases. Often, practices do not cater to the needs of children as FRA’s report on making justice systems more child-friendly revealed. Better access to justice for children is in line with international child rights instruments and is the best interests of the child, as it improves child protection and their meaningful participation in judicial proceedings.

Barriers in accessing justice such as lengthy and costly litigation, and the lack of alternative dispute resolution mechanisms also impede the freedom to conduct a business. This in turn acts as a brake on innovation and entrepreneurship throughout the EU, as a recent FRA report showed.

Together these examples underline the importance of guaranteeing the right to an effective remedy and to a fair trial; they make access to justice a reality for all.