Partnerships for Rule of Law Technical Assistance – the bridge to strategic, sustainable impact?

26 July 2018

Following the ROLE UK and Judiciary of England and Wales Roundtable Event held last week, 'Partnership Working Internationally to Support the Rule of Law', Toby Collis, the ROLE UK Learning and Development Manager, outlines some of the key ideas which emerged from the discussion.

Legal technical assistance – convening events; workshops and trainings – is a core type of pro bono support provided by UK legal experts to developing countries. Lawyers, judges and academics devote, as a sector, thousands of hours to Rule of Law technical assistance. However, it is not without its criticisms, for instance:

  • ‘fly-in, fly-out’ trainings work well for lawyer’s busy diaries, but these short-term interventions do not achieve real long-term impact;
  • topics are decided by UK-expert’s skills base, rather than from genuine stakeholder demand;
  • project design, delivery and evaluation are not legal skills, and legal technical assistance project planning may not be up to international development best practice.

Can partnerships mitigate these criticisms? What does “partnership” really mean? Do partnerships work and what are good examples? Do they contribute to positive and sustainable Rule of Law impacts? How do we measure this? It was these and further questions that inspired the Judicial Office, supported by ROLE UK (Rule of Law Expertise UK), to convene UK experts, many of whom are supporters of, or supported by, ROLE UK, to meet and discuss partnerships for Rule of Law technical assistance. ROLE UK is a DFID-funded initiative that not only provides financial and logistics support for UK experts to conduct technical assistance assignments in developing countries, but facilitates and furthers partnerships between UK experts and in-country stakeholders, with the intended outcome of more strategic, long-term engagement, leading to improved Rule of Law impact.

This short thought-piece outlines some of the key ideas arising from this discussion and is intended to provide fodder for further conversation and research.


How can partnerships contribute to positive and sustainable Rule of Law impact?

In recent years, the concept of ‘partnership’ has emerged as a ‘buzzword’ in development discourses and has been embraced by virtually all development agencies and NGOs. Yet, in practice, developing a real partnership proved challenging, especially given the imbalance of resources and finances between ‘partners’. Sometimes, the term ‘partnership’ is used to describe what actually is a one-way flow of capacity from the North to the South without any genuine sharing. To build an ‘authentic’ partnership and make it successful, it is generally accepted that the following principles should be observed: long-term relationship, common goals and objectives, shared responsibility in the planning, implementation, monitoring and evaluation, trust and respect between partners, mutual knowledge learning and mutual accountability.

The ROLE UK programme itself is a product of, and creates, partnerships:

  • it was created by the UK legal community and DFID working together, including leading NGOs and peak bodies, who  came together with the aim of making legal pro bono as impactful as possible;
  • applicants for ROLE UK support must work with demand-side stakeholders to formulate project design – this creates, in the minimum, ad-hoc partnerships;
  • ROLE UK is beginning to provide in-principle support to strengthen partnerships and generate longer-term sustained intervention;
  • ROLE UK produces outputs on best-practice technical assistance, lessons learned, and case studies through papers and events. This outreach is for the wider pro bono community, generating a diffuse community of practice.

Programmes such as ROLE UK bring different stakeholders together, creating unique and innovative partnerships. However, ROLE UK is certainly not the first and not the last programme to do so. Indeed, for organisations such as the International Bar Association, this is their raison d’ être – bringing, at a cross-border level, different components of the legal sector (lawyers, judges, academics etc) together. Similarly, the Inns of Court work closely with overseas bars in Africa and Asia to create effective and efficient partnerships. This collaboration gives support to bars where the independence of the legal profession is under threat. The Law Society of England and Wales’ International Rule of Law Programme also works with international partners on five thematic areas: lawyers at risk; business and human rights; capacity building foreign bar associations; women and the law; and governance (anti-corruption). The partnerships reduce differences and increase common ground between partners, creating a global community of like-minded practitioners.

Whilst the UK legal profession has much to offer the legal sectors abroad, sometimes it is easy to forget the effects of the colonial legacy. This can create improper power dynamics between UK experts and in-country recipients, or minimise the impact due to perceptions of being lectured by a former colonial power. Effective partnerships with local organisations can ameliorate this by ensuring that the project is truly demand-led and meets local needs, and allows local stakeholders to be rightly front and centre in the design and delivery of the project.

Partnerships don’t just exist between supply-side UK experts and demand-side in-country legal professionals. Partnerships also need to exist across the supply of technical assistance expertise. Coordination between organisations minimises the risk of duplication of assistance, and provides opportunities for collaborations that maximise the respective strengths of different stakeholders. Ideally, in-country governments should perform this coordination function, but there are often issues of capacity (or the temptation to take all the help on offer). In their place, the supply-side should work to self-coordinate. One successful example of this is the UK Sierra Leone Pro Bono Network. Formed in 2014, it includes barristers, solicitors, judiciary, law firms, public sector lawyers and related associations and organisations.  It works directly with key – particularly government – stakeholders in Sierra Leone to ensure all technical assistance has a genuine demand, and utilises a local consultant to maintain key relationships and facilitate activities.  This long-term, relationship-based network has been able to successfully mitigate what could be the damaging effects of disruptions, for example through changes of government.


What are the key components of effective rule of law partnerships?

Moving to practicalities, what are some key lessons to ensuring that partnerships work?

One is to have a clear picture of how the coordination will work. The Law Society of England and Wales held a human rights training for Turkish lawyers in Geneva. To ensure the training was successful a small nucleus of stakeholders was convened to coordinate and deliver the activities. Clear roles and responsibilities of each team member was established in advance. The activity was framed as a pilot programme to road-test whether all the stakeholders could work effectively together.

A second lesson is to ensure that all the necessary in-country stakeholders are convened to achieve impact. The Judicial College was delivering a project for the Punjab judiciary to help control the courtroom. Over the five day trip the trainers quickly recognised that without engaging a wider range of activities and stakeholders – for instance, advocacy training for lawyers, police training, new rules of conduct, training court staff – any interventions for the judiciary would lead to minimal impact.

A third lesson is to build partnership relations over time. Herbert Smith Freehills has had an eight year partnership with the government of Sierra Leone. The key components of this success are: a long-term commitment; delivery through an organisation such as a global law firm that is not tied to short-time funding cycles; a focus on one country and one partner; and sending lawyers out on the ground to Sierra Leone. Building this relationship and providing deep and genuine assistance led the partners to work together on sensitive activities – such as drafting national laws – that with a superficial partnership would have been impossible. These types of relationships – genuine, strategic partnerships, require the UK-side to really understand the needs and motivations of the in-country partners; as said by one participant it is “not just being in partnership, but believing in the partnership”


How do we measure a successful partnership?

A key lesson arising is to think seriously about how to achieve and measure impact. Rule of Law impact may take not only years, but decades. To accurately assess impact may require analysis of the entire legal sector – an impossible task for smaller organisations. If achieving and measuring impact is so difficult, should we therefore merely hope to have impact?  Such defeatism isn’t justified nor necessary: instead, impact must be clearly considered in the design of the project, and activities must be coherently and logically linked to the big-picture impact. Using international development tools such as Theory of Change can help guide this process. Working with partners to undertake this analysis will increase its accuracy, and using local partners will allow tracking of impact over time.

This convening of UK legal experts was merely the beginning of an ongoing conversation on the role of partnerships to deliver Rule of Law technical assistance. ROLE UK encourages NGOs in developing countries, or UK legal experts, to contact ROLE UK to discuss how it could support new projects, create new partnerships, and strengthen existing ones.  

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