uOttawa launches globally focused program for legal professionals to make law more inclusive

Posted on Friday, July 30, 2021

A gavel is placed in front of a judge.

The University of Ottawa has established a research program on human rights and the legitimacy of legal systems around the world, focusing on vulnerable populations. Run by the Centre for Research Opportunities (CRO), the annual program will be available to judges, magistrates, lawyers and law professors, as well as uOttawa undergraduate and graduate students.

The first activity took place in April. The CRO trained 150 judges from Chile and Mexico through an intensive online professional development session called “A Transversal View on the Principle of Legitimacy within the Framework of Latin American Legal Reforms.”

Since the 1980s, several Latin American countries have reinstated democracy, overcoming years of authoritarian or dictatorial rule. The region has introduced major legal and human rights reforms, including substantive changes to constitutional, jurisdictional and penal systems. Despite this, some vulnerable populations still face barriers to fair access to justice.

Those interested can view the first training session (in Spanish). It was organized by uOttawa in partnership with several Latin American universities, to identify the main obstacles and shortcomings that the justice system presents to groups in vulnerable situations, including victims of crime. Experts and judges from Canada, Chile and Mexico shared experiences concerning the normative and institutional framework and highlighted cultural and social obstacles that limit legitimacy in institutional justice.

“Too often there are groups that are vulnerable to justice system interpretations and practices. More data and research are needed everywhere in the world related to accessing justice, particularly but not only for, vulnerable groups,” said Pierre G. Bélanger, a part-time professor in the Faculty of Law, Civil Law Section, who leads the program. “This program will seek to discuss advances and setbacks of the legal reforms, as well as how institutions and people apply them. It will also look at public perception of whether or not the legal reforms are being applied equitably, the relevance of the legal and juridical regimes that govern them and the quality of justice.”

The first training session included a series of panellists from renowned academic institutions, including the Universidad Central de Chile, the Universidad de Chile and the Universidad Iberoamericana (Mexico). Inaugural remarks were made by the Right Honourable Richard Wagner, chief justice of Canada, along with Guillermo Silva Gundelach, president of the Supreme Court of Chile. High Court of Justice presidents from several Mexican states also participated.

“This program will train international researchers, judges and other members of the judicial system on the development and implementation of legal and judicial reforms that address current legitimacy and human rights issues,” said Sylvain Charbonneau, vice-president, research at the University of Ottawa. “Through this initiative we will draw on the University’s research strengths in law and social justice to establish an international research network on legal reforms that will be available to undergraduate and graduate students.”

A conference based on international legal research findings on access to justice and legitimacy for vulnerable populations is planned for the 2021–2022 academic year.

To learn more about this research program, email the Centre for Research Opportunities.

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