World leaders gathered at the UN General Assembly’s 67th session in New York last week to discuss strengthening the rule of law. In the midst of this discussion, the Third Committee (which deals with humanitarian and social affairs) adopted the draft UN Principles on Access to Legal Aid in Criminal Justice Systems. Within them, drug users are included for the first time in such a document as a specific group requiring legal aid while in contact with the criminal justice system.
Principles 10 and 11 specifically refer to the equal access to legal aid:
Special measures should be taken to ensure meaningful access to legal aid for women, children and groups with special needs, including, but not limited to, the elderly, minorities, persons with disabilities, persons with mental illnesses, persons living with HIV and other serious contagious diseases, drug users, indigenous and aboriginal people, stateless persons, asylum-seekers, foreign citizens, migrants and migrant workers, refugees and internally displaced persons. Such measures should address the special needs of these groups, including gender-sensitive and age-appropriate measures.
In the design of their nationwide legal aid schemes, States are recommended to ‘take into account the needs of specific groups, including but not limited to the elderly, minorities, persons with disabilities, the mentally ill, persons living with HIV and other severe contagious diseases, drug users, indigenous and aboriginal people, stateless persons, asylum-seekers, foreign citizens, refugees and internally displaced persons, in line with guidelines 9 and 10.
The draft principles have been sent for final approval by the General Assembly, expected in late December.