2 MIZAN LAW REVIEW, Vol. 11, No.1 September 2017
Regardless of the normative imperatives that necessitate its emergence, the term
access to justice has remained a subject of ongoing debate since its inception.
Different commentators have described the term differently. There has been little
agreement about the meaning of access to justice, and the term “has over time
become politically loaded and thus necessarily problematic”.1 This article does not
deal with various conceptions of access to justice. It rather focuses on the current
concern toward promoting and achieving the social inclusion of the poor and
vulnerable in accessing justice. In view of this, the term access to justice refers to
the ability of individuals or groups to institute cases for alleged infringement of
rights before judicial and quasi-judicial bodies and the possibility for the
adjudicating body to deliver judgment on the “claim in a fair and impartial fashion
on the basis of the evidence and according to the applicable rules of law”.2
The right of access to justice is guaranteed in a number of global and regional
human rights instruments which Ethiopia has adopted.3 In addition to the human
rights instruments, the right of access to justice is also expressly recognized in the
Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia (FDRE) Constitution.4
Vulnerable members of the society, such as children, women, people living
with HIV/AIDS and persons with disabilities face difficulties to seek remedies for
the infringement of their rights owing to lack of money, ignorance of the law and
lack of awareness of litigation procedures. Cognizant of this fact, various
jurisdictions, including Ethiopia, have designed a myriad of strategies to ensure
access to justice. These, inter alia, include pro bono service by practicing lawyers,
legal aid services, legal literacy and public interest litigation by law school legal
aid centers and civil society organizations. As a matter of reality, however, access
The authors would like to thank Bahir Dar University for covering the fund needed for
data collection for this research and Mekelle University for giving us the opportunity to
present the earlier version of this work at a National Workshop on the Role of Higher
Education-based Legal Advocacy & Research Centers in Enhancing Access to Justice and
Effective Legal Education, organized by Mekelle University School of Law (Legal Aid
Center and Human Rights Center), Mekelle, Ethiopia (13 June 2015).
1 Estelle Hurter (2011), ‘Access to Justice: to Dream the Impossible Dream?’ 44(3) CILSA,
2 Samuel P. Baumgartner (2011), ‘Does Access to Justice Improve Countries’ Compliance
with Human Rights Norms?: An Empirical Study,’ 44 Cornell International Law Journal,
p. 457. For similar definition, see also M. Elvira Méndez Pinedo (2011), ‘Access to Justice
as Hope in the Dark in Search for a New Concept in European Law’, 1(19) International
Journal of Humanities and Social Science, p. 9.
3 See, for example, article 8 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, articles 2, 3(a),
7(1(a)(c) and (d), 9(4), 14 (1), 14(3)(c) of the ICCPR.
4 The Constitution of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, 1995, Federal Negarit
Gazzeta, Proc. No. 1/1995, No.1, 1st year 1995, arts. 37, 19, 20, 21 and 25.