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Access to justice – can elections be free and fair without it?

Access to justice – can elections be free and fair without it?

Reflections of María del Carmen Alanis Figueroa, author of Access to Justice and Electoral Integrity

As more countries around the world adopt elections as the mechanism to choose their representatives in government, it becomes increasingly important to guarantee electoral integrity. Rigged elections, fraud, and unaddressed open violations of rights related to political participation and representation give democracy a bad name. This paper outlines the importance of access to justice in preventing this and in offering solutions in the field of elections.

If a political process is not inclusive, transparent, and offers conditions of security to all participants, there should be a way to voice complaints. If there are violations to rights related to political participation and representation, adequate sanctions and remedies should be available. In other words, access to justice is fundamental in any electoral process.

That is why the Electoral Integrity Initiative has engaged in analysing the relationship between the rule of law and electoral integrity, and in understanding how access to justice is one of its main components. This paper highlights the importance of an effective, timely and impartial administration of justice that – particularly in electoral contexts – is supported by independent authorities, who reason their decisions with transparency, grant access to as many people as possible to its jurisdiction, and provide security to different stakeholders.

While these principles can adopt different institutional forms around the world, the starting point is to acknowledge political rights as human rights. Countries may, however, choose to set different legal procedures to provide means for redress in cases of violations of political rights. The creation, strengthening, and recognition of these institutions by all political actors fosters certainty throughout electoral processes, provides legitimacy to governments, and, most importantly, voices claims and offers remedies in response to violations to these fundamental rights.

To configure an electoral justice system that goes beyond a simple electoral dispute resolution mechanism, it is important to be willing to invest in the protection of political rights more broadly by taking specific actions to do so. Providing the legal framework is just the starting point: implementation is instrumental. After drafting laws and regulations, an investment in training staff, bolstering the independence of decision makers, and designing and implementing effective policies should follow. This is a key element to increase public confidence and strengthen the rule of law in both new and old democracies.

This paper seeks to highlight the importance of political rights and their adequate protection. To do this, it addresses some of the policy decisions that lead to equal access to justice and to an effective and timely reparation for any damages suffered by stakeholders in a democracy. In short, it addresses the importance of access to justice as one of the cornerstones of electoral integrity.

Mrs. Maria del Carmen Alanis Figueroa is a Mexican academic, lawyer and Judge. She is executive secretary of Federal Electoral Institute (IFE) and a Judge of the Federal Electoral Tribunal (TEPJF); she was also the Tribunal’s first female President. She lectures in Mexico and other countries on elections, voter education, electoral systems and electoral law.