Tackling Access to Justice in Civic Engagement Meetings

On a rainy day in January, BAI attorneys traveled to the outskirts of Saut d’Eau to meet with community members as part of BAI’s Civic Engagement Program. Meeting face to face with community members enables BAI attorneys to gain firsthand insight into the problems specific communities are facing, and to support community-led solutions. Today, the community members chose to tackle a particularly pressing problem — access to justice.

BAI Managing Attorney Mario Joseph began by asking community members about their experiences with the Haitian legal system, and their candid answers revealed unfortunate truths about systematic barriers to justice in Haiti. Fok ou penche, one man responded matter-of-factly, “you have to bribe.” Another man answered that if you want your case to move forward, then it’s your obligation to pay a bribe to a judge. There’s simply no other way to ensure that your case will be reviewed in a timely manner, if at all.

Many community members echoed these sentiments, and their encounters with Haitian courts demonstrated how corruption had transformed from a transgression of the legal system to a law in itself. Officials within the legal system who wish to make a change often lack the institutional support to do so, whereas everyday Haitians lack the resources to speak out in a unified way.

Addressing systematic corruption in the legal system will require comprehensive reform from all actors in the legal system – which means local communities have a role to play too. Local communities can act as a first line of defense against corruption by holding judicial officials to a higher standard. Using collective action, local communities can push judges to respect their constitutional rights to have their cases reviewed. Through BAI’s Civic Engagement Program, community members in Saut d’Eau now have the resources and the space to start to develop their own strategies for tackling corruption in the legal system, and to contribute to Haiti’s development.

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