Minnesota group ships law books to Africa

rule of law

Minnesota group ships law books to Africa

Lane Ayres (left to right), director of the Jack Mason Law & Democracy Initiative of Books for Africa; Chief Justice Peter Shivute of the Supreme Court of Namibia; and Tom Leighton, Vice Chairman of Thomson Reuters at a book ceremony. Photo courtesy of Tom Leighton.

A law book can change a life. Donations from 117 law libraries in 24 African countries have changed millions of lives and helped establish the rule of law across the continent, says Lane Ayres, director of the Jack Mason Law & Democracy Initiative of Books for Africa.

The rule of law is the foundation of any stable society, says Ayres, and it continues to be challenged in a number of countries in Africa.

“You have to have a legal basis for the company. The legal training and practice of lawyers is an important means,” he adds. “What we do is just a small drop in the ocean, but it’s important to provide lawyers and law schools with the tools they need to succeed. »

The idea of ​​sending legal books to Africa took root decades ago when Ayres was a law student and summered in Ghana. It was then that he visited the Ghana School of Law in Accra and noticed the scarcity of books.

Later, as an assistant district attorney in Hennepin County, Minnesota, Ayres became involved with a nonprofit organization, Books for Africa, based in St. Paul. And in 2008, Ayres met Thomas Pfeifer, a neighbor and Thomson Reuters executive, at a potluck where they discussed collaborating on a project to send new law books to Africa.

Thomson Reuters is one of the largest publishers of legal books in the world and has a large facility in Eagan, Minnesota. Thomson Reuters is the only publisher to contribute to this program, although funding also comes from lawyers, judges and legal organizations nationwide.

Pfeifer wrote a memo to Thomson Reuters management, launching the 14-year partnership that continues to send entire law libraries to African countries that lack books on law and human rights.

“I’ve been here 27 years, when I look back on my career, that memo and what it led to is one of the three things I’m most proud of,” Pfeifer says.

The initiative is named after Jack Mason, Federal Magistrate Judge and Board Member of Books for Africa. He died suddenly in 2002 at age 63 of a heart attack.

Two of Mason’s good friends, former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan and former US vice-president Walter Mondale, served on the initiative’s advisory board and helped promote the cause.

Law & Democracy Project 2
Tony Addy, Law Librarian at the Supreme Court of Ghana, and Tom Leighton, Vice Chairman of Thomson Reuters. Photo courtesy of Tom Leighton.

Each year, the Jack Mason Law & Democracy Initiative ships 10 reference law libraries to Africa. Each law library costs $20,000 for 200 books, Ayres says. The books are primarily in English but have also included French and Portuguese versions. The books cover the entire legal system, including common law, business law, human rights and international law and judicial procedure.

“It levels the playing field for African lawyers and judges when faced with lawyers from other countries coming in and getting their way into a particular contract,” Ayres says.

Over the 14-year period, most of the books went to law schools and bar associations. But in 2019, the initiative began sending books to court systems, including the supreme courts of Namibia, Botswana, Ghana and Sierra Leone. He also works with the Attorney General Alliance to send books to attorneys general, prosecutors and other legal organizations in African countries.

The America Bar Association sponsored the first shipment of the Thomson Reuters Reference Law Library in 2008 to the University of Liberia’s Grimes School of Law, Ayres said. Over the years, the ABA has also sponsored sent law libraries to Sierra Leone, Ethiopia and Liberia, he adds.

“The ABA’s support for the international distribution of legal materials dates back at least to the early 1990s, when the ABA Central and East European Law Initiative began facilitating the delivery of law books to emerging democracies,” says the ABA’s new Associate Executive Director. the Scott Carlson Center for Global Programs (previously Senior Director of Programs and Strategic Initiatives at ABA ROLI).

“While the rise of the Internet has revolutionized access to legal information, not everyone has access to fast connections and law books continue to be a valuable resource in developing environments” , adds Carlson.

Donations can be life changing, says Ayres. In The Gambia, a women’s rights organization received a donation from a law library. At the time, The Gambia was ruled by a despotic ruler and women were not treated equally. Ayres met the women’s organization in their small storefront with a conference room that contained the law library.

“They were just in tears when we met,” Ayres says. “They also have male lawyers who come into their offices to use the library. The status he gave them was significant. To be taken seriously as women lawyers was something.

The purpose and objective of the program is to advance the rule of law and access to justice across the continent, said Sharon Sayles Belton, Vice President of Community Relations and Government Affairs for Business lawyers at Thomson Reuters and former mayor of Minneapolis.

The impact of law book donations is profound, says Sayles Belton. Students are better informed, the public is better served and countries are more stable. The rule of law is the foundation of financial and social impact investing. When countries have policies, rules and procedures in place, it encourages and invites economic growth and prosperity, she adds.

“Our work is far from done,” says Sayles Belton. “There is so much more to be done to address disparities around the world. We are helping to build a solid foundation for the civil societies that are emerging and growing across the continent, and we want to continue to do so.

There are 54 countries in Africa, so Sayles Belton said there was plenty of room for the project to expand and reach even more people. There are no plans to expand beyond Africa.

Partnerships are essential to the success of the program, says Sayles Belton. Law schools and law firms in the United States are participating by donating money and books, and they are spreading the message through their networks.

In February, Tom Leighton, vice chairman of Thomson Reuters, traveled to Banjul, the capital of The Gambia, with a group of British judges who were there to train the Gambian judiciary on sentencing guidelines.

“We heard a lot of hopeful talk about the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary,” says Leighton, who is a member of the ABA and also a member of the judicial division’s court technology committee. of the ABA.

In September, Leighton flew to Accra, Ghana, for a Commonwealth Magistrates’ Conference with 400 attendees from 46 Commonwealth countries. He visited four organizations that hosted law libraries. Some of them were new gifts, and some were ten years old.

“Our non-profit legal aid center depends on the support of organizations and individuals for its operations,” Afua Adotey, president of the International Federation of Women Lawyers in Ghana, said in an email. “The law library provided by Books for Africa to FIDA-Ghana has been much appreciated as it allows lawyers at our center to use a modern library on our premises when providing services to our clients and constituents.”

This bill is bigger than the law, says Sayles Belton. “This is a project which, according to one of the ambassadors, is absolutely essential to peace in the world”, she adds. “He said if we could educate our children, and if we could fully embrace the rule of law, we could foster peace and stability in our country, on the continent and in the world. It’s a powerful statement, and there’s a lot of truth to it. »

Nancy I. Romero