New study brings to life the full scope of people’s legal problems in Tunisia

The Hague Institute for Innovation of Law (HiiL) launches a detailed report on the justice needs and journeys of people in Tunisia

TUNIS – On 21 March 2023, The Hague Institute for Innovation of Law (HiiL) launched a report detailing the extent of legal problems that impact the lives of Tunisians. The Justice Needs and Satisfaction (JNS) study was released at the Laico Hotel in Tunis where several high-level officials attended, including Mr. Kamel Eddine Ben Hsan, Head of Cabinet at the Tunisian Ministry of Justice and representative of Mrs. Leila Jaffel, Minister of Justice; Dean of the Bar Association, Mr. Hatem Mziou; Her Excellency the Dutch Ambassador to Tunisia, Mrs. Josephine Frantzen; and Dr. Sam Muller, the founder and CEO of The Hague Institute for Innovation of Law.

The JNS study is based on interviews conducted by HiiL with more than 5,000 randomly selected Tunisian adults. It provides ample evidence of people’s experiences including the types of legal problems facing Tunisians, what actions they took to solve those problems, and if they felt they managed to reach a fair resolution. The JNS also shed light on how people in Tunisia view the quality of procedures, including the fairness of outcomes and the cost of accessing justice.

« We see that more than ever, people and businesses are asking justice systems to be better, » said Sam Muller, CEO of HiiL. « If our societies are to reduce violence, protect the environment, address inequality and repair broken social contracts, then they will need revamped justice systems that respond effectively – and cost-effectively – to people’s needs. »

The JNS report provides accurate data that can be used by decision-makers, justice service providers, and innovators in Tunisia to enhance access to justice. This can be achieved by focusing on the most burdensome legal problems affecting people, as well as strengthening the most effective justice services and supporting legal innovations that enhance the right to access justice.

Key findings from the study:

  • One in three people in Tunisia experienced at least one legal problem in the past year. 
  • Roughly 23% of all legal problems are completely or partially resolved but only half of those resolutions are assessed as being fair.
  • The four most common categories of legal problems affecting Tunisians are related to neighbour relations, money disputes, issues around public services, and employment problems. 
  • The majority of legal problems never reach the formal justice system. When seeking help, 25% of Tunisians turn to family while 15% seek help from friends or neighbours. Only 7% of Tunisians engage a lawyer and 4% go to court
  • In total, people in Tunisia experience 5 million legal problems every year. This has a significant impact on social and economic development throughout the country. 

Addressing these challenges in access to justice is part of people-centred justice programming, a systemic and integrated approach taking shape globally and emerging in Tunisia. It enables justice institutions, practitioners, implementers, and donors to put people at the centre of their work, thus focusing on outcomes for people. 

The people-centred justice approach has five components: 1) Gathering data on people’s justice needs and experiences; 2) Using evidence-based practice and promoting ‘what works’; 3) Supporting scalable and sustainable justice innovations and service delivery models; 4) Creating an enabling environment to sustain the results; and 5) Strengthening the movement towards SDG16.3 – equal access to justice for all. Together, they keep the focus on getting justice systems to fulfil their potential to society and the economy. 

“The JNS report is the first of these components,” said Ronald Lenz, Director of the Tunisia programme at HiiL. “The data it contains can help create impact at scale which can only be achieved through more collaboration. We welcome the government and other organisations to explore this data and to work with us so the data can be impactful in their own work.”

A presentation on Tunisia’s people-centred justice programme took place during the JNS launch event. Implemented in partnership with local stakeholders, the programme supports existing efforts underway by the Tunisian Ministry of Justice. These efforts are aimed at increasing access to justice. 

The launch also provided a space for interaction and networking between key actors in the justice sector. This included justice practitioners, service providers, and innovators in Tunisia with a view to promoting legal innovation and enhancing people’s access to justice. 

“These relationships are key to realising long-awaited progress in how Tunisia’s justice system helps people,” said Roger El Khoury, HiiL’s Senior Justice Sector Advisor and Representative in the MENA Region. 

“Such progress towards people-centred justice has a crucial role in preventing and resolving conflicts,” added Raja Mazeh, HiiL’s country manager in Tunisia. “It also brings immense social and economic benefits because investments in responsive justice systems create strong economies too.”

Taken altogether, the findings and implications outlined in the report are based on the need to improve people’s lives in Tunisia. The recommendations support policymakers and providers of justice services as they work to improve how legal problems get prevented or resolved in a fair and effective way. 

At HiiL, we strive to ensure that justice sector professionals spend time in ways that people expect and direct services towards those priorities. HiiL’s CEO, Sam Muller, added that collaborating with Tunisia stems from this shared commitment. 

“In 2019 at the Peace Palace in The Hague, Tunisia was among the first countries in the world to highlight the new people-centred justice approach and committed to applying it by signing on to The Hague Declaration on Access to Justice. Today, Tunisia has taken another step towards the implementation of people-centred justice.”

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