LAHORE, May 25: Representatives of European Union are finalising with the Punjab government and bar councils the terms of reference for an access to justice programme for the poor and vulnerable groups, offering Euro 8 million for it.

They intend to implement the programme through support of legal and civil society organisations and the judiciary in Punjab, Dawn learnt on Friday.

The total cost of the project is stated to be Euro 8.86 million. And while offering Euro 8 million, the representatives say the rest of the money should be provided by the Punjab government, the Punjab Bar Council, the Lahore High Court and bar associations of the target cities.

Pakistan had run another Asian Development Bank Funded $350 million access to justice programme which ended in June 2008. But the European Union says it remained unsuccessful because of several reasons like excessive focus on federal justice system, resulting in reluctance of provinces to accept reforms dictated from the federal level.

The other reasons included too strong emphasis on the supply side (government actors) without adequate reference to civil society or the general public, lack of meaningful donor coordination exacerbated by lack of commitment from the federal government to establish a sector policy on access to justice.

The working paper of the European Union programme says access to justice for the poor and vulnerable is very limited in Pakistan. Institutions and systems designated to protect citizens’ rights, notably police, courts and formal grievance mechanisms are deeply flawed and often corrupt.

It says a significant gap exists between Pakistan’s commitment to ensure access to justice and realities on ground. The provision of justice is hampered by inadequate funding and training, lack of supervision and very credible allegations of corruption. Legal services for poor defendants are of inadequate quality, if available at all.

The objectives of the programme are to increase access to justice for the poor and vulnerable in Punjab and to encourage and enable them to better claim their legal rights.

The European Commission intends to implement the programme by strengthening civil society (bar associations and NGOs) and governmental justice providers, and accountability and awareness.

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