ADR and Access to Justice

Access to justice is not just access to a judicial system, but to an adequate dispute resolution process

The right of access to justice and the right to a fair trial are guaranteed under Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights. These rights are routinely hampered in many countries by the sheer pressure on underfunded systems of justice, even when other conditions are favourable.

Effective access to justice is one of the fundamental conditions for the establishment of the rule of law. In the past, the right of access to judicial protection meant essentially and almost exclusively the aggrieved individual’s formal right to litigate or defend a claim, defined in strictly legal terms. A broader view of what is going on behind such claims, which characterizes ADR, opens new pathways to resolving disputes, relieving the overcrowding that makes court cases unnecessarily slow. In particular, ADR processes are of significant importance to justice systems when effective establishment of alternative means of dispute resolution can significantly reduce the number of minor disputes before the civil courts, helping to improve the availability of judges for cases which must be tried.

More broadly, the diffusion of ADR has become a significant factor in instilling confidence in the legal framework as a whole, supporting and promoting the rule of law. A recent Directive of the European Parliament and the Council – 2008/52/EC of 21st May 2008 – highlights the importance of facilitating access to Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) methods/procedures, promoting the amicable settlement of disputes by encouraging the use of mediation and by ensuring a balanced relationship between mediation and judicial procedures. Securing better access to justice via ADR, as well as through other methods, is now part of the established policy of the European Union.

At the same time, the relationship between an efficient and effective legal aid system and access to justice for the poor has long been clear. Modern reform of a judicial access system typically includes efforts to improve legal aid systems as well as to make ADR more effective and available. Both reforms help make access to justice faster and easier. In this context ADR Development aims to promote access to justice by helping to develop legal aid systems that are appropriate for the country concerned, strengthening the functioning of the justice system such that citizens can have rapid and uncomplicated access to solutions to their disagreements.

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