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An event of the Law Societies’ Compact & Forum for SDG 16, co-organized with the Paris Bar Association
The Law Societies’ Compact & Forum for SDG 16 (the Compact) comprises professional societies of lawyers from across the world. Given their skills and the role their place in society, lawyers play a vital role in upholding the rule of law and human rights.
Police brutality has often been the focus of the most discussions on racism. However, numerous studies in different countries confirm that racism is found at all stages of the legal and judicial chain. Instead of a neutral application of the law to each individual case, a person’s origins and ethnic background have influenced the way the law is applied and the final court decisions.
Access to the court system and legal representation have also been shown to vary depending on the social and racial background of the affected parties, leading to uneven enforcement of matters ranging from access to land, housing, healthcare, all the way down to issues related to criminal law. Studies further show that those who apply the law are unaware that they are influenced by such biases, and these racial biases in the justice system remain one of the most obvious examples of institutional or systemic racism.
This results in greater distrust of these institutions, justified by their experiences of racial profiling, harsher treatment and punishment, and an over-representation of these groups in prisons. The effect of this dysfunction is to sideline entire sections of the population from citizenship by undermining their rights, first and foremost to a fair trial or even simply access to law and justice, and thus to create a deep rift in society and a strong impact on a country’s development capacity.
The Compact & Forum’s Working Group on Access to Law focuses on proposing concrete actions and avenues of reflection to promote access to law in favor of the realization of SDG 16.
Fighting racial discrimination and bias in the justice system is a crucial element in ensuring access to justice for all and the realization of SDG 16. Based on this perspective, the session will examine how judicial systems are affected by the phenomenon of structural racism and what strategies can be put in place to remedy this, focusing particularly on the role lawyers can play to lessen these issues and improve the rule of law, as they are in the front line of the judicial system.
In that sense, a high-profile panel of experts will provide insight into the fundamental role of access to rights in combating racism in the courts and the concrete initiatives proposed and implemented by bar associations and lawyers’ organizations from various jurisdictions around the world. Such exchanges can be crucial in disseminating knowledge leading to the formulation and implementation of similarly successful initiatives in different jurisdictions.
Sandie Okoro is Senior Vice President and General Counsel for the World Bank Group, and Vice President for Compliance at the World Bank. She is also the Chair of the World Bank Group Task Force on Racism. A British national and the first black woman to hold this role, Sandie Okoro is the principal advisor and spokesperson on all legal matters for the world’s leading development finance institution. She also heads the Compliance Vice Presidency that is responsible for developing and overseeing the World Bank data privacy framework based on the World Bank Group Policy on Personal Data Privacy. The two Vice Presidencies are separate and distinct. In her role as the Chair for the World Bank Group Task Force on Racism, Sandie Okoro is bringing the topics of race and racial equity at the forefront of Bank Group staff and operational matters, convening discussions, and proposing action steps to help ensure racism and racial inequalities have no place in the institution, its operations, and the countries it serves.
I. Stephanie Boyce was admitted as a solicitor in 2002 and has a wealth of experience in corporate governance, regulatory frameworks and professional regulation. I. Stephanie Boyce holds a Master of Laws in public law and global governance from King’s College and is a Fellow of the Chartered Governance Institute. Stephanie Boyce is a Council member of the Law Society of England and Wales representing the Women Lawyers Division and Board member of the of the Law Society, a solicitor member of the Joint Tribunal Service and holds a number of statutory appointments with her local authority. I. Stephanie Boyce has recently been appointed to the HM Treasury and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy commission – an independent taskforce boosting socio-economic diversity at senior levels in financial and professional services. In 2020, I, Stephanie Boyce was voted on to the Governance Hot 100 – Board Influencer and made the Power List 100 Most Influential Black People in the UK in 2021.
Hon. Iris Yassmin Barrios Aguilar is a judge and the president of one of Guatemala’s two High Risk Court Tribunals. She was the presiding judge in the case of Efraín Ríos Montt. In that trial, Montt was found guilty of the genocide of indigenous Ixil Mayans; the verdict came in 2013. The trial was the first time a national judiciary tried a former head of state for genocide in his home country. She has also presided and/or participated in other landmark cases in Guatemala (Gerardi, Mack, Rosemberg, Parlacen, Dos Erres, Spur Zarco, Odebrecht). Hon. Iris Yassmin Barrios Aguilar received a 2014 International Women of Courage award from First Lady Michelle Obama, as well as a 2015 ASIL Goler T. Butcher award for her contribution to International Human Rights Law.
Marie Mercat-Bruns is Affiliated Professor at Sciences Po Law School and a tenured Associate Law Professor in Private Law and in Labor and Employment Law at the Conservatoire National des Arts et Métiers (CNAM DISST) where she is a member of the Research Institute LISE CNRS (Co-head of Group: Law, Gender and Discrimination). She is also a member of the scientific committee of Presage (Sciences Po/OFCE Research and Academic Program on Gender Thinking). In 2016, she completed a study on the challenges of implementation of discrimination law in light of the experience of the Netherlands (financed by a grant from the French Ministry of Justice and the Defender of Right, co-headed with J. Perelman, Sciences Po Law School) in association with the University of Paris II Sorbonne and the CEVIPOF, Sciences Po. Member of a group of experts appointed by the Minister in charge of Senior Citizens to write a report on the rights and freedom of residents in long term care facilities/home care in preparation of the law on "The adjustment to society to aging (adopted in in 2015). Member of a group of experts in charge of studying intergenerational "care" mechanisms for French policy for the Minister in charge of "The person, Families and Autonomy". Supervisor of a community-based law clinic at Sciences Po Law School, “Access to Justice” which she contributed to create at Sciences Po, working with Defender of Rights and legal services agencies in Paris (since 2009). Within the framework of this clinic, she is launching a new Street Law program (access to justice for disenfranchised youth and residents in the French suburbs).
Slim Benachour is a specialist in Labor Law and Non-Discrimination Law and has been practicing law for twenty-three years. He is a member of the Paris Bar and holds a postgraduate degree in Private International Law and International Commercial Law. He has been leading counsel in a number of discrimination cases and has used his expertise to work on collective cases with companies, unions and employees, community groups and local law enforcement. On these occasions, he works as part of a team combining advocacy, communication, and mobilization to advance the broad goals of the cases. He has also been a co-coordinator of the Non-Discrimination Committee of the Union des Avocats Français (SAF) for the past 15 years.