The University of York is forging close relationships with Afghan legal practitioners and academics to help equip the country’s future lawyers with the skills they need in post war Afghanistan.
Richard Grimes, a qualified solicitor and Director of Clinical Programmes at the York Law School, visited Afghanistan in September and December 2010. His remit was to help with the development of law clinics – a law school programme providing hands-on legal experience to law students who provide free legal advice under the supervision of qualified lawyers.
And in May, 10 Afghan academics and representatives of non-government agencies, which offer free legal advice, will pay a return visit to the York Law School at the University of York.
The Afghan delegates will take part in a two-week workshop programme which has been funded by the Open Society Institute and is designed to allow an exchange of ideas and experiences. Delegates will include representatives from the Universities of Herat, Al-beroni, Nangarhar, Balkh and Kabul, as well as legal service providers and representatives of donor agencies, such as the Open Society Institute, which promote the development of law clinics in Afghanistan.
Richard Grimes said: “Afghanistan has a very strong tradition of community-based alternative dispute resolution, where elders play a significant role in resolving legal and other differences. We have much to learn from this in terms of finding solutions to disputes without necessarily having recourse to the courts, for example through a restorative justice model which brings offenders and victims together.”
His involvement with law clinics in Afghanistan began before he joined the University of York in August 2010. He is now able to contribute to the work of the University’s Centre for Applied Human Rights which is particularly interested in addressing human rights issues in countries such as Afghanistan where there is a history of conflict.
Previously, as a consultant, Richard Grimes was invited by the Open Society Institute to help with developing clinics in Afghanistan. In 2009, he visited a newly-established legal clinic at the University of Herat near the Iranian border in the West of Afghanistan. The legal clinic, which was set up by local academics and legal practitioners, provides advice and assistance, mainly to women, on a range of family law and property issues. The clinic also places students with non-government agencies such as the International Law Foundation which handles criminal cases.
Richard Grimes said: “There is no effective state legal aid system in Afghanistan so law clinics set up by non-government agencies and law schools provide a vital service to people, particularly women, who cannot afford or otherwise access legal advice. Improving these should, in turn, help with the development of the Rule of Law, as those concerned with the administration of justice, including in proceedings in courts and quasi-judicial bodies, become more accountable.”
In Herat he highlighted internationally accepted best practice, enabling the clinic to further develop its services to meet professional and educational aims. The initiative led to a country-wide response and in December 2010 the York Law School ran a training workshop in Kabul for five university Law and Shari’a (Islamic jurispudence) Faculties who intend to establish or further develop legal clinics based on the Herat model. All five are sending representatives to the York workshop programme in May to continue this work.
Members of the legal profession in and around York together with academics from universities in the region will be invited to meet the Afghan delegates. The visit will also include the chance for delegates to see established law clinics in a range of other institutions.
The York Law School is in its third year and boosts exceptional facilities. It is based on the £750m University campus extension at Heslington East, which has been built with a combination of public and private funding, including support from the European Regional Development Fund.
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