Making people agree … and comply, perhaps

´What Works to Improve A2J´ is a three-part blog series on delivering equal access to justice for all written by Professor Maurits Barendrecht, Research Director at HiIL, author of the NYP, Charging for Justice.

What Works to Improve A2J 1. Making people agree … and comply, perhaps.

This first blog post in the series takes stock of the data we have now and tests commonly held assumptions about improving access to justice against those data

We now have data

New datasets offer unique opportunities to test assumptions. Whether investing in courts is helpful. Or money should go to legal aid and government legal advice centres. Empowering citizens to solve their own problems is also an option. Data can now inform such policies.

We can look for patterns

The OECD has published a standard for country-wide legal needs surveys. It is building on 25 years of experience, including HiiL’s extensive justice needs surveys, which surveys have been applied in 17 countries and counting: Fiji just went live. The United States and Ethiopia will follow next year. In May, the World Justice Project (WJP) published country indicators from surveys in 101 countries. These are the justice problems people have to deal with in the average country over the past 2 years. The graph also illustrates how the number of problems varies between countries, by indicating the range between country nr. 20 and 81.

Satisfaction with solutions and satisfaction with process sofar is a measure for A2J

In the WJP dataset of country indicators, I constructed a variable which summarises access to justice (A2J). I multiplied the % of problems resolved by the % of problem owners satisfied with the outcome. Because many problems are still ongoing, I also took them into account. 

So I added the % of problems ongoing, multiplied by the % satisfied with the process so far.

In this way, we obtain a good measure of the % of problems on track to a satisfactory solution. 

Justice for all is still far away 

Countries typically score between 38% (20th percentile) and 51% (80th) on my A2J variable. So 100% access to justice is still far away (see HiiL country reports and analysis of the worldwide Justice Gap by WJP). Because of this, Justice for All is now the mantra. The data contain valuable suggestions on how to achieve this mission. This kind of analysis is at an early stage, but let me share some results. 

Countries that excel at making citizens agree score high on A2J

Agreeing is the most common way to get problems done with (average country score 34%).

High % agreed solutions come with high scores on A2J (correlation 0.43). A multivariate analysis executed by my colleague Rodrigo Nunez suggests the same. Even when we control for average hardship (a measure in the WJP data gauging the impact of a justice problem on people’s lives) the relationship holds. So helping people with justice problems to settle or agree, may work to improve A2J. 

Many people comply

Still, only one-third of the problems that are done are resolved by agreement. So what happens to the other problems? Next on the list of ways to get problems done with are “problem sorting out itself” (16%) and “other party doing what I wanted” (11%). Some respondents also say they independently did what the other party asked (7%). These answer categories more or less capture the “shadow of the law”.

More people doing what other people ask does not correlate with A2J score

Social norms, and the option to involve an authority, may cause people to comply, do what another person asks for and adjust their behavior.  But interestingly, being better at this, is not correlated in a meaningful way with the country A2J score. More compliance may work to get the problem out of the way, but seems to come at the expense of satisfaction with the outcome. Perhaps compliance with requests and norms does not create effective solutions for problems as people experience them. Or people lack a feeling of procedural justice (voice, participation) when they give in. 

Agreeing seems to work, now what about self help, (legal) advice and court decisions?So facilitating agreements as a way to resolve justice problems may be a good way to increase A2J. As many would perhaps expect. In our 2018 trend report, Understanding Justice Needs, we already looked into this as an option, investigating a number of ways to support agreements. In the next blog we will explore what the data tell us about the relationship between A2J and legal system interventions such as advice and court interventions. Is A2J really improved by better access to current justice institutions?