Sam Muller, CEO of HiiL
“Translating Ambitions to Actions through people-centred justice.” Under that banner, the Justice Action Coalition – the high ambition stakeholder coalition seeking to close the global justice gap – met virtually on 19 June1. Hosted by The Netherlands, the G7+ Secretariat, and Pathfinders for Justice, the meeting reiterated the Coalition’s strong and unequivocal commitment to close the justice gap and was a reaffirmation of the people-centred justice way of working based on data, evidence-based working and innovation. An effective implementation architecture to support this critical effort is emerging. It now needs more investment.
“We are failing to deliver access to justice”, Asako Okai, the UN Assistant Administrator and Director of the Crisis Bureau said in her opening remarks. It could not have been more clear.
A solid people-centred justice architecture is starting to take shape. Firstly, a high-ambition coalition of 19 states and 16 partner organisations2, all committed to closing the justice gap through the people-centred justice way of working. At the SDG Summit, the member countries of the JAC will present an agile, more permanent support structure for this effort. Second, a set of five principles, first set out in the Hague Declaration on Access to Justice, and subsequently further developed. Briefly set out, they include:
- Put people at the centre.
- Focus on resolution, using data, evidence-based working, and innovation.
- Improve the quality of justice journeys, both in terms of process and outcomes.
- Use justice for prevention.
- Break down legal, administrative and practical barriers that people face to obtain documents, access public services, and participate fully in society and the economy.
The ministers and partners recalled the 2023 Summit for Democracy’s Joint Statement and Call to Action on rule of law and people-centered justice and noted that over 60 countries have now endorsed the five principles.
We also see action. These five principles are being developed in periodic meetings and reports of member countries and partner organisations. In line with the Justice Appeal 2023, adopted at the ministerial meeting of 30 May 2022, States and partner organisations are also practising them and they periodically share those practices. At the meeting, all member countries and partners shared efforts they are making themselves3. This shared way of working also takes the discussion beyond the more traditional development fora in which countries in the Global North talk about helping others. The Netherlands, for example, spoke of the justice challenges that it was facing to provide justice and compensate people who suffered damages because of gas mining in the North of the country.
Below are some of the themes I picked up from what was shared.
Data and Digitalisation
Niger, one of the world’s least developed countries, shared an impressive data collection effort; two national justice needs surveys in two years, both of which are being used for a national strategy. Canada just completed a national justice needs survey. Colombia’s Ministry of Justice and Law, the Department of Statistics and the Department of National Planning have together conducted two large-scale surveys, the most recent one in 20204. Chile’s Supreme Court, through its Directorate of Research, published in 2021 a justice needs survey following the Ministry of Justice’s pioneer study of 2015.
Portugal shared some fascinating examples of digitalisation in the justice field: a justice practical guide for legal information, easy ways for digital authentication of legal documents, portals to make a request for justice support online and a platform for Alternative Dispute Resolution with consultation and exchange of information functions.
Based on a recent evaluation of UNDP’s work on access to justice UNDP also reiterated the importance of robust data collection to strengthen people-centred justice programming.
Justice close to people
Germany referred to two initiatives that give people easier access to informal resolution mechanisms and simple procedures for small claims. Indonesia is also giving priority to community justice centres and other informal mechanisms. Luxembourg emphasised the need for justice mechanisms to also focus on reconciliation, healing and the ability to continue with disrupted lives. Many countries shared efforts to increase access to legal aid and other forms of support. For Kosovo and Colombia, efforts were connected with violence from the past and the need for reconciliation. Vulnerable groups were a cross-cutting theme. In Canada, for example, work is being done to draft two new justice strategies for indigenous peoples and black communities to address systemic discrimination. Sao Tome and Principe is focusing on improving legal aid. In the US, Attorney General Merrick Garland has re-established an office especially dedicated to increasing access to justice.
What is critical now is that member states, development organisations, philanthropists and other private actors get behind this growing movement and its new way of working.
“We need more investment,” said UN Assistant Administrator Okai.
That, in my view, does not necessarily mean that a lot of additional funds are needed. Spending existing funding in a better way would already be a good step. Because it is more data-driven and evidence-based, the people-centred justice way of working can be planned, budgeted and measured more effectively than current approaches. The degree to which outcomes are being achieved can be monitored closely. Pivots can be made when needed, making this way of working much more adaptable and agile. Sweden, Germany, the US and The Netherlands have pledged to focus funding on this way of working, an important step, but more is needed.
The permanent structure of the Justice Action Coalition will be presented at the SDG Summit in September. The June meeting was a very significant step. We know what the problem is. We know how to work on both system change and concrete results for people. What the movement now needs is funding. Let’s have some first serious commitments on the table at the SDG Summit in September. Improving for the future and improving for now.
1 The meeting brought together 14 representatives at the ministerial level from the 19 member countries: Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Germany, Indonesia, Kosovo, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Niger, Portugal, Sao Tome & Principe, Sweden, and the United States of America. From the partner organisations the following participated: the G7+ Secretariat, UNDP, OECD, UN Women, Pathfinders, OGP, ICTJ, IDLO, WJP, Strathclyde Institute for Childens’ Futures, and HiiL.
2 These include, besides the organisations referred to above: World Bank, ABA, Helsinki University Rule of Law Center, and Terre de Hommes.
3 See Good Practices and Commitments on People Centred Justice, June 2023, at https://cic.nyu.edu/wp-content/uploads/2023/06/JAC-Good-Practices-and-Commitments-on-People-Centered-Justice-June-2023.pdf