ILAC is an international organisation based in Sweden that gathers wide-ranging legal expertise and competencies from around the world to help rebuild justice systems in countries that are in conflict, post conflict, or in transition toward peace and democracy.
Our added value is in our membership. ILAC is comprised of more than 50 legal organisations and experts representing over 3 million legal professionals worldwide – judges, lawyers, prosecutors, and court administrators.
Because of our broad and extensive membership, we can rapidly engage anywhere in the world and respond to requests for legal expertise or practitioners in all legal fields or subjects.
Equal access to justice for all.
To rapidly respond and assess the needs of the justice sector in conflict-affected and fragile countries, and help strengthen the independence and resilience of justice sector institutions and the legal profession.
ILAC's Strategy 2017-2021
ILAC's History - The Birth of an Idea
By Diana Bentley, 2007.
ILAC was born out of a recognition that the re-establishment of the rule of law in war-torn countries by legal assistance organizations needed better management to be more effective. Experience in countries in Central and Eastern Europe emerging from totalitarian rule in the last two decades demonstrated clearly how legal reform was central to promoting social growth and development. In that time too many war - torn countries had suffered a significant breakdown of the rule of law.
But despite a plethora of international aid for such countries, there was still little support for rehabilitating their judicial systems and, when available, its delivery was haphazard.
In the late 1990's several lawyers, foremost among them Mark S. Ellis, today Executive Director of the International Bar Association (IBA), and Bill Meyer of the American Bar Association, began to discuss the possibility of better marshalling legal development assistance to countries in need.
‘The idea lay in experiences we’d had in post- conflict situations in Bosnia, Kosovo and Rwanda’, explains Ellis. ‘The focus on rebuilding legal systems was often an afterthought and we felt strongly that the international and domestic legal communities should concentrate on the legal system at the very start of the reconstruction process. Duplication was also a problem. ‘When an organization eventually focused on legal restructuring its report would be left to languish. Then a new group would become involved, funded by a new government or foundation, who would cover the same ground.’
The efforts of legal aid entities would be more effective if they were coordinated by one organization, he believed. ‘We thought that a form of umbrella organization could help put legal restructuring at the forefront of structuring plans and, at least in the initial stage, secure collaboration on providing blueprints for reform and the way help was provided. ’The focus on the organization, he felt, should be on countries in post-conflict situations.
Usually suffering from the breakdown of the rule of law, they commonly lacked an educated, independent judiciary, lawyers who could serve as drafters of legislation and legal administrators and legal education to create new generations of scholars and practitioners. While the need for legal rehabilitation in post-communist countries had become well understood, says Ellis: `The period following a conflict in a country is so chaotic that there is often no focus on legal restructuring.’
With his urging, the US based Stanley Foundation sponsored several preliminary workshops and conferences held in the US from 1997 to 2000 in which international jurists explored the idea. The Swedish and Irish governments and the IBA too provided crucial preliminary funding.
Among the early supporters of the idea was ILAC Executive Director, Christian Åhlund. `I thought that the idea was brilliant but I believed that the body must be completely international in character to be viable, he recalls. Initially, the champions of the idea
were unsure of how legal assistance organizations would react to the proposal. But support was forthcoming and ILAC Chairman Paul Hoddinott pays tribute to the international legal fraternity for their foresight: ‘Organizations providing legal assistance guard their independence and it does the legal profession great credit that they were able to collaborate’.
Enthusiasm for the idea was such that in Saltsjöbaden, Sweden in December 2000, in a conference supported by the Swedish government and attended by 40 organizations from around the world, ILAC was born. Almost a year later, in November, 2001 it became an non -governmental organization (NGO) under Swedish law.
ILAC then needed a home. Ideas to base it in London became mired in tax issues but Sweden’s fiscal regime proved favourable for an NGO and the Swedish government was enthusiastic about the organization and offered crucial funding. Sweden’s history of neutrality and its international reputation for humanitarian work also made it an ideal home for ILAC.
On the 1stSeptember, 2002 ILAC opened its doors in Stockholm under the stewardship of Christian Åhlund. A former senior partner of a Swedish law firm, Åhlund’s experience included many international assignments in the field of human rights - particularly in Bosnia-Hercegovina where he served as a Director General for Human Rights for the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).
Founding Chairman Paul Hoddinott, had followed a distinguished career in the Royal Navy with a 6 year term as the Executive Director of the IBA and appointments with NATO and the UN and the British Embassy in Washington. With 3 staff in Stockholm, ILAC also now has officers stationed in Brussels, Washington, Zambia and Liberia and 37 members representing more than 3 million lawyers worldwide.
ILAC’s methodology soon was proven. Assessments of the need for legal reform in a country are conducted by ILAC on request. Typically these come from the UN and Christian Åhlund has worked hard to form partnerships with the organization. ‘To be viable we must have 'buy-in’ from the government or interim authority or UN peacekeeping operations in a country. We‘ve made a point of getting to know the dedicated people in the UN and we must nurture our contacts there’, he says.
Assessment teams are selected by ILAC’s Council based on the skills and languages required for a project and to be able to consult with politicians, leaders of the judiciary and the wider legal community on appraisal missions. Often countries understand what legal assistance they require but ILAC assessment teams also reach their own conclusions of what aid is needed.