Justice Needs and Satisfaction in Ukraine and Uganda

What do Ukraine and Uganda have in common, besides the U at the beginning of their name? An elaborate justice needs and satisfaction survey was just done in both countries. The Ukraine results were presented on 1 March. The Uganda results on 14 April.

First, some observations to put this in a wider context.

I hope such surveys are a trend. They should be. The UN has announced that it will hold its first ministerial meeting in July to review progress regarding implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). We are, of course, mostly interested in Justice Goal 16. As I pointed out in an earlier column: it is a tremendous advance that data is a core pillar for such a review, despite the fact that the decision of the UN member states to base such reviews “primarily” on “national official data sources” remains an area of concern. Not all governments have justice data, like justice data, or are transparent with justice data. From that perspective, it is important that governments, civil society and international organisations stretch the word ‘primarily’ to its full potential. In Ukraine and Uganda, this was done. Both surveys were conducted in consultation with the governments, with international organisations, and with civil society organisations. The multi-stakeholder process of doing and launching them was as important as the outcomes they produced.

A second observation concerns action. Collecting data about the functioning of a justice system has a purpose: it should form the foundation for better outcomes. Based on data, you have a good idea of what the justice needs of citizens are: by problem, by gender, between urban-rural, age groups, regions, and by procedure. By making that data public you make everybody aware of those justice needs and spur people into action. Informed by data you can target your limited resources to where they can have the most impact, for the most people. Informed by the data you can start creating change coalitions around specific justice problems. Leaders will emerge who want to bring people together to solve them. Data can help those change coalitions formulate good strategies, underpinned by sustainable funding models. And, lastly, data can tell you whether you are actually being successful in what you are developing as an improvement. But getting from data to action can be tough. Many good surveys and data sets have died a slow death on meeting tables and in desk drawers. It requires a critical mass people that can understand data. It needs political action, either led by able political leaders or pushed for by citizens. It requires management: making plans and executing them. And lastly, being creative about finding funding for actions plans is also a critical factor. In short: data is only the beginning.

So what can we say about the outcomes of these two surveys? This column does not hold enough space to do justice to the richness of the data, so I will restrict myself to a few key insights.

When we look at prevalence of justice problems we see that 88% of Ugandans and 54% Ukrainians encountered a serious justice problem in the last four years. That’s more than half. By comparison: in Yemen, a staggering 94% was measured in 2014. In the Netherlands it was 46% according to a 2015 survey. However, one must be careful with comparing such percentages: a higher percentage does not have to mean ‘bad’. It could also be a signal of a lot of legal empowerment, which, as such, is positive.

Both in Ukraine and in Uganda around 40% of the respondents said they gave up on finding a resolution for their justice problem. Different reasons are cited, of which not thinking it would result in anything, not knowing what to do, and being worried that it might aggravate the situation stand out. In Yemen the percentage of those that gave up was 22%. In Mali, it was 23%. These figures may be telling us that, generally, between a quarter and a third of citizens give up on pursuing a justice problem. That’s a lot of injustice being swallowed.

Then there is what I call the 5% problem: the fact that in most countries only 2-7% of justice disputes end up in a court. Ukraine and Uganda are like every other country: both hover around the 5%. And yet, in most countries most of the improvement talk, projects, and funding are directed at the courts. This probably has to do with the fact that doing improvement projects in the other 95% are much more challenging. There is no central organisation to talk to and deal with. Uganda has an interesting and innovative institution in the 95% space: the Local Council Courts (LCC’s) – locally constituted dispute resolution councils, whose members don’t have to be lawyers. A 2014 judgment has declared them unconstitutional, but the survey shows that citizens are quite happy with them. The 95% space is also where a lot can be improved by focussing on legal information and smart referral systems. In that respect, Ukraine and Uganda show entirely different pictures. In Ukraine, more than half of the respondents (59%) did not seek legal information, and if they did, they mostly turned to public authorities. By contrast, in Uganda, 65% of the respondents did seek legal advice, and mostly used their social network.

This is just a selection of some of the general conclusions. The data gets even more interesting when a deep dive is taken into particular problem areas, like family-, employment- or land problems, or comparisons are made according to gender, region, or education level. Diversity is so important; the studies show that a one-size-fits-all does not correspond to what the justice needs and satisfaction data is telling us. Yet isn’t that what we all learn at law school?

We need much more of this data. And we all need to learn to work with it and to turn it into action: more justice value for more citizens.