Access to Justice as a Tool of Empowering the Poor: The Contribution of Jimma University Legal Aid Center in Perspective
Fikadu Tolossa Ayanie
Access to justice is closely linked to poverty reduction and human development. Conventionally, the dominant paradigm of ‘rule of law orthodoxy’ upheld that state centered top-down approach of access to justice is a panacea for ills of underdevelopment and poverty. Yet, a glance at literature reveals that currently about four billion people, mostly poor, live without any legal protection. In an attempt to uplift this problem, the last two decades have witnessed the significant rise of bottom–up approaches to bring the vulnerable sections of society into the mainstream of holistic development. One of such attempts is charge-free legal aid service centers in many poor countries, including Ethiopia. Making sense of these developments, this research was meant to assess the contribution of the Legal Aid Center of Jimma University (JULAC) in realizing access to justice as a meaningful remedy to the poor and disadvantaged people over the last eight years. In doing so, it has utilized a case study design. The data generated from key informant interview, focus group discussions, review of the official documents of the JULAC and case stories were analyzed in line with capability approach. With all its shortcomings, the findings of this study attest that such bottom-up approaches in access to justice do not only help the beneficiaries in exercising their rights to which they are entitled but also empower them in leading their life and determine their destiny.
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