Access to justice in the West Bank
The right to free counsel for poor persons accused of a crime is enshrined in law in the West Bank. Yet the government legal aid system is not meeting the need and few lawyers are trained to provide effective criminal defence services. In addition, police, prosecutors, and courts often engage in practices that are unsupported by law and further undermine the rights of the accused. If Palestinian institutions do not provide access to justice, the likelihood of internal conflict will increase.
This is why UNDEF funds a project to help develop an effective and sustainable criminal legal aid system in the West Bank. The project, implemented by the International Legal Foundation, held its criminal defence clinics early 2015 in partnership with Hebron University, Arab American University, and Modern University College. The clinics offer Palestinian law students a unique opportunity to extern with International Legal Foundation-West Bank, the West Bank's only public defender office, where they are taught criminal defense practice skills and assist the representation of clients in actual cases. The goal is to provide law student with the skills necessary to become effective legal advocates, while raising awareness of the significant obstacles to access to justice faced by poor and vulnerable populations and the important role of defense lawyers in the justice system.
The clinical programme was initially launched in 2014 as a pilot at Hebron University before being expanded to Ramallah and Jenin. For 2015, an overwhelming number of students applied as a result of the positive feedback shared by past participants. The student-externs work under the mentorship of experienced local lawyers of the International Legal Foundation-West Bank, in conjunction with university professors under the guidance of experienced volunteer clinical professors from the United States. During the first two months of the externship, these students have assisted the representation of 36 indigent accused.