SAJ Leonen Urges Law Practitioners to go Beyond Legal Aid in Making Justice Accessible
September 15, 2023
Senior Associate Justice Marvic M.V.F. Leonen delivers the keynote address Access to Justice and Support for the Rule of Law (ACCESS) Program Close Out Event of the American Bar Association Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI) held at the Rizal Park Hotel, Manila on Friday, September 15, 2023.(Courtesy of the Supreme Court Public Information Office)
“Access to justice, therefore, means not only explaining or translating the law for our people, but constantly revisiting its interpretation, so it becomes more responsive to their needs and more relevant to our present contexts.”
Speaking at the Access to Justice and Support for the Rule of Law (ACCESS) Program Close Out Event of the American Bar Association Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI) held at the Rizal Park Hotel, Manila on Friday, Senior Associate Justice Marvic M.V.F. Leonen recognized the gains of the ACCESS Program in the country over the years, and called on what still needs to be done to ensure accessibility to justice for all.
In his keynote address, Justice Leonen pointed to the realities on the ground, and how access to justice means different things to people, but most especially to the marginalized. “In spirit, it can be summarized as being seen, being heard, being treated with decency, respect, and dignity that one truly deserves.” He also mentioned corruption and the disempowering stereotypes that maintain the status quo of oppression and injustice in society.
In the face of these social realities, and for the law to truly be responsive and relevant, Justice Leonen urged members of the legal profession to go beyond legal aid to make the law relevant. “The work of improving access to justice means that we are conscious of the social context we presently live in. It requires that we serve to reduce the suffering of our people,” he added.
Justice Leonen presented a nine-point challenge, which include: (1) reevaluating traditional mandatory legal aid hours for lawyers; (2) working with alternative, developmental, policy-oriented organizations of lawyers to evaluate more critical, responsive, responsible, and sustainable public interest lawyering; (3) spearheading an anti-corruption program led by the IBP; (4) opening more spaces for actual research and policy advocacy under clinical legal education; (5) reforming the curriculum of law schools to include, among others, Shari’ah and Indigenous Laws; (6) deepening research and studies on the impact of laws and procedure on administering justice; (7) examining the demographics of lawyering in the country to provide a baseline for policy reform and guidance as to how the legal profession addresses social concerns; (8) encouraging the profession to be sensitive to and evolve more public interest cases in the proper way; and (9) rationalizing the dockets of the courts to make space for deeper analysis and rethinking of many of the worn-out doctrines that have contributed to impoverishment, inequality, marginalization and oppression.
As a final note, he addressed the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, recognizing that it is in a “unique position” to evaluate whether our laws work, and that our administrative agencies, our law enforcement and our courts are effective in truly administering justice.
“The Integrated Bar might want to set its sights to conducting policy forums where our lawyers share their experiences with the current content of the law, the institutions that invoke and hope to deliver justice and to shape our understanding of justice in a country such as ours—a society vulnerable to the effects of climate change, with residues from our colonial past, and with the kind of politics in the context of possible disinformation put on steroids by social media and artificial intelligence,” Justice Leonen said.
The event marks the ceremonial close out of the five-year ACCESS Program of the American Bar Rule of Law Initiative, supported by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). Since 2018, the Program worked with the Judiciary and the IBP, among its key partners, to “bolster the rule of law and enhance access to justice, particularly among the most vulnerable communities in the Philippines.”
It reached over 350,000 beneficiaries nationwide; providing free legal aid and allied services through 22 Legal Aid Caravans, serving over 3,000 clients including indigenous peoples and persons deprived of liberty. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Program oversaw the procurement of video-conferencing equipment for 24 regional and metropolitan courts nationwide, which are among those with the highest caseloads in the country.