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Expanding access to justice for the people of Myanmar: Two new Justice Centres Launched in Shan State and Mandalay Region with support of the EU

On July 24th and 25th, the MyJustice Programme, funded by the European Union (EU) and implemented by the British Council, in partnership with International Bridges to Justice (IBJ), launched new Justice Centres in Taunggyi and Mandalay to strengthen access to justice in Myanmar.

‘Knowing your rights and how to defend them is essential for democratic progress, especially for a society in transition like Myanmar. The justice centres in Taunggyi and Mandalay will further expand the network of EU-funded justice centres in Myanmar and will help some of the most vulnerable communities in this country to learn about their rights and receive assistance in defending them. The EU’s support is based on our fundamental conviction that access to justice is a right for all, not the privilege of just a few,” said EU Chargé d’Affaires, Colin Steinbach, on the importance of legal assistance and wider access to justice in Myanmar.

Since 2015, MyJustice has supported Justice Centres in Yangon and Mawlamyaing to provide free legal representation for more than 2,395 people and legal advice to more than 1,372 people. These Justice Centres provide legal aid across 24 Township Courts, five District Courts, the Yangon Region High Court and the Mon State High Court and the Union Supreme Court.

“Justice Centre services have been welcomed by the community and the numbers of people who seek and receive legal services grows year after year, so we can see that there is a real demand for the assistance that the Justice Centres provide,” said Caitlin Reiger, Team Leader of MyJustice. “Even more importantly, justice sector actors, including the courts and the police, also recognise the importance of these services and have responded by increasingly referring the poor to the Justice Centres for services.”

Following the success of the programme, MyJustice has partnered with International Bridges to Justice (IBJ) to expand the Justice Centre programme to Mandalay Region, Shan State, Bago Region, and Kayin State. The expansion will allow the programme to reach the poor and marginalised in greater numbers.

“These Justice Centres will not only directly improve the lives of the individuals they serve, but also serve as a model, paving the way forward for systemic, early access to counsel for every man, woman, and child in Myanmar,” said Karen Tse, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of IBJ. “This collaboration represents a key step forward in IBJ’s global mission of preventing institutional abuse and expanding rights protections in criminal justice systems worldwide.”

The Mandalay and Taunggyi Justice Centres will provide free legal representation, advice and assistance to the poor and create public awareness and understanding of rights and responsibilities under law. In addition, the Justice Centres will work with lawyers to strengthen their legal skills and practice, including conducting training for more than 100 lawyers from across the country in July. The Justice Centres will aim to develop greater communication and collaboration between legal professionals, civil society and government stakeholders in order to better meet community needs.

“Lawyers in Myanmar have been conducting free legal aid to the poor for many years, but we have not been able to do it systematically and we have not been able to reach everyone in need,” said U Hla Ko, Advocate, “Now, with the recent enactment of the new Legal Aid Law and the new partnership between MyJustice and IBJ to open new Justice Centres in Mandalay and Taunggyi, we are taking strong steps towards providing legal services to all those in need.”