Justice - ABC of civil society
For many civil society organizations their primary goal is to seek justice for those people who they represent; whether it be the disabled, women or ordinary citizens seeking their political rights. Here we will look at why it is vital that everybody has access to the legal system and nobody be above the law.
Understanding how the justice system works
There is no benefit to be had simply by claiming that the laws and the justice system are unfair; as a civil society activist, you must learn how to make the law work for you.
Many people fail to achieve their rights and what is rightfully theirs, simply because they don’t know what their rights are.
Imagine somebody with a disability which prevents them from working. Civil society organizations can empower them to understand what benefits they are entitled to, or help them access training that will allow them to equip themselves for work that they are capable of doing.
Perhaps they were wrongfully fired by their previous employer because of their disability; or perhaps they gained their disability because of unsafe conditions in their workplace. Civil society organizations for supporting the disabled should be able to assist such people in seeking justice and taking their claim to court; perhaps helping them to secure legal aid to pursue their claim.
Lobbying for changes in the law
Sometimes the right laws exist but people don’t know how to benefit from these, or the bureaucracy is so complicated that it is difficult for independent citizens to benefit from the justice system.
In other cases, out-of-date or unfair laws, or loopholes in the law prevent citizens from achieving justice.
Pro-women’s organizations and several MPs have recently been lobbying for changes in Bahrain’s criminal law preventing a rapist from escaping justice by marrying his victim. Such a law was written for a time when some people believed this was a legitimate means of allowing the victim and her family to escape from a socially-damaging stigma. In the present day, most of us recognise that such a law is wrong in allowing the criminal to escape his crime, while putting pressure on the victim to marry someone who violated her.
Through a very public campaign, activists and MPs can both build support for a change in the law and help to positively transform social attitudes towards such issues.
Independence of the judiciary
It is widely recognised that in order for everybody to have access to justice and to prevent injustice, the judiciary – i.e.; the courts and the legal system - must be independent from the governing system.
This prevents senior figures from negatively influencing the judicial process and it also means that even the most powerful figures in the state are equally subject to the legal system. Nobody is above the law.
Civil society organizations can also play a role in monitoring the various parts of the justice system to ensure that in practice it operates in the way that it should. In any country there are sometimes abuses in the law and for some reason a fair judgement isn’t always reached. In such circumstances, civil society organizations can lobby for an appeal or a rehearing of certain cases.
Legal reforms in Bahrain
The 2011 BICI report made a number of recommendations for reforming the legal system in Bahrain.
These measures included a review by civil courts of all the individuals tried by military courts under the National Safety measures; guarantees for swift and full access to lawyers by detainees; and retraining of the judiciary to avoid judgements made on “confession-based evidence obtained by coercion or duress”.
An extensive report by the US State Department in 2016 confirmed that a lot of progress had been made on all these criteria, for example; more than two-thirds of members of the judiciary undergoing extensive retraining on human rights in criminal procedures.
ABC of civil society
Identity – next week