n Comparative and International Law Journal of Southern Africa - Access to justice : to dream the impossible dream?

Volume 44, Issue 3
  • ISSN : 0010-4051



In the past the phrase 'access to justice' referred to access to courts, but since the 1970s it has acquired a broader meaning and is still evolving. Views on access to justice are closely linked to the socio-economic situation at a particular point in time. Our current world is complex and has given rise to matching complex needs. Huge social imbalances have been created and many groups of people have become marginalised and excluded from a fair determination of rights. Legal problems have thus acquired a social dimension, requiring the civil justice system to play an important role in realising social justice. Current access-to-justice concerns are aimed at promoting and achieving the social inclusion of those excluded from the justice system, and so the meaning of the phrase access to justice is extended to include access to mechanisms that facilitate social inclusion. Broad consensus on the basic guiding principles for such mechanisms has yet to emerge. Nevertheless, a new approach to access to justice has so far yielded many far-reaching procedural reforms in many countries, as well as many innovative measures (such as PLEI programmes, help centres, ombudsman institutions, special tribunals and funding schemes), giving reason for optimism that justice systems will be able to meet the needs of the most disadvantaged members of society.

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