Sunday, December 20, 2009

UN General Assembly on Legal Empowerment of the Poor

One of the trends in law and development practice in the past few years has been towards emphasizing legal access for the poor. The high-level Commission on Legal Empowerment of the Poor issued its report in 2008, and I now see that the report has received the endorsement of the UN General Assembly (see Document A/C.2/64/L.4/Rev.2 if you are interested). Like much in law and development, it seems to reflect a consensus between political right and left: much of the emphasis is on formalization of property rights, but also on legal services to the poor and poverty reduction.

I must admit some skepticism about what all this means on the ground. Its probably safe to say that anything endorsed by the UN General Assembly must represent a consensus so shallow as to be insipid. In most countries, for structural reasons, the law is a mechanism in which the "haves come out ahead." Political movements, of course, can force redistribution much more effectively than the courts. I wonder if there is any evidence on this kind of thing affecting large scale change in any particular country.

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