As the lead in a consortium of partners, the British Council has signed a contract to deliver the EU-funded Access to Justice Programme in China. The programme aims to develop a new national policy and innovative models to increase access to justice for millions of citizens across China.

In China currently, legal aid provision is funded predominantly through regional government, leading to huge geographical disparities in legal aid spending. Representation figures are low across the country – in all criminal cases only 30 per cent of defendants have any representation in court, and only 20 per cent receive legal aid.

Awareness of citizens’ rights is also low and training for lawyers is limited, which seriously affects access to justice, especially for disadvantaged and vulnerable groups, such as women and ethnic groups.

The programme will pilot legal aid interventions in three provinces – Shanxi, Henan and Inner Mongolia – based on evidence gathered through a comprehensive assessment to evaluate current legal aid provision. Programme activity will include awareness raising campaigns, capacity building, study tours to the EU, and policy dialogues between China and the EU. 

To bridge the gap between supply and demand of legal aid, we will draw on models from Africa and South Asia where lawyers are supported by trained paralegal advisors, who can provide advice and assistance. This innovative approach means one lawyer, supported by ten paralegal advisors, can provide services to 100 people.

The Access to Justice Programme will be delivered with a range of partners: the Danish Institute for Human Rights, PILnet, Justice Coopération Internationale, the Hague Institute for the Internationalisation of Law, the Max Planck Institute, the China University of Political Science and Law, and the Beijing Zhicheng Migrant Workers’ Legal Aid and Research Centre.

The programme is a welcome addition to the British Council’s growing portfolio of rule of law and justice programmes in East Asia, including projects in Burma and Vietnam.

Read our project case study.