The promise of people-centred justice

We can strengthen justice systems by putting people and the outcomes they need first. This approach leads to sustainable solutions but also brings impressive social and economic benefits. In this policy brief, we share what is emerging about developing and implementing national people-centred justice programmes.

In September 2021, the UN Secretary-General presented his agenda for the tremendous challenges the world is facing as the UN celebrates its 75 anniversary. In his report ‘Our Common Agenda,’ António Guterres makes two important observations to the UN member states:  first, the troubling erosion of the social contract and second, the inadequate response of justice systems which « deliver only for the few. »

Data backs this up. The most pressing justice problems occur when jobs, housing, land, family relationships or public services essential for survival are at stake. Only 32% of people experiencing a justice problem report that it is resolved in a satisfactory way. Furthermore, 7% use a court or some other form of tribunal. And only 8% get advice from a lawyer or another professional.

There is growing recognition of a new paradigm that can help us deal with the challenge of achieving SDG16.3 – access to justice for all: people-centred justice.

The good news is that countries are becoming more successful in providing security and preventing crime. But the highly regarded Rule of Law Index shows that more safety does not equal more justice. Indicators suggest that the protection of human rights is deteriorating over the past 5 years.

All told, the justice gap is widening and leaving an indelible mark on people’s lives and well-being. 

However, a concrete approach is emerging. It comes from the pioneering work of many including the Task Force on Justice, Pathfinders for Justice, the OECD, the Portuguese EU Presidency, World Justice Project, Namati, Open Society Justice Initiative, the Elders and more. The elements of the emerging approach can be described in many ways. This policy brief attempts to bring the elements together in an integrated approach and details five main investments:

  1. Data
  2. Evidence-based practice
  3. Gamechanging justice services
  4. Enabling Environment
  5. Engagement and accountability

Each of the five elements has been tried and tested in different environments; a people-centred justice programme brings them together. The approach is modular and integrated. It can be accompanied by a solid business case in terms of social and economic benefits. It can provide the assurances investors need.

Now is the time to start to understand this way of programming and to help develop it further.

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Further reading