Cryptocurrencies, and its underlying blockchain technology, are everywhere today. Bitcoin’s revolutionary breakthrough provoked intensive research into the potential adoption of backend technology into a multitude of fields. Essentially, blockchain is a secure digital ledger which can record almost anything which has value – coins and financial transactions, ID documents and ownership titles, votes and shares, property and contractual rights, positive and negative reviews. It is clear that blockchain technology will transform and probably disrupt many areas of the law in the months and years to come.
Based on mutual consensus between all participants and automatic authenticity checks, the decentralized blockchain technology has shown tremendous potential for building independent systems. Thus, the autonomy as well as the transparency of those systems would guarantee a broader access to justice to everyone involved.
But is it going to remain a technology geared towards the needs of big business such as banks, insurance, the fintech sector and investors? Can blockchain help the billions of people who need the law for protecting their basic justice needs?
Throughout the years, HiiL has asked tens of thousands of people around the world about their justice needs and experiences with access to justice. We find that worldwide, large numbers of women and men encounter legal problems that might have a legal solution. At a global level, people most often need accessible and fair justice journeys for: crime, land problems, disputes with neighbors, family problems, employment and money-related disputes. Problems around ID documents (i.e. birth, citizenship, marriage and death certificates) and welfare benefits are common among the most vulnerable groups.
The answer to our question is – Yes, blockchain technology has huge promise for the justice needs of the people. Countries like Estonia, Ghana, Honduras, Ukraine, Sweden, the Indian state Andra Pradesh and Georgia already experiment with registering land titles and ownership rights using blockchain. There is a great hope that this will make land transactions more affordable, transparent and secure.
In the field of family justice, there are already examples of e-marriage and marriage certificates encoded in public and private blockchains. The fields most likely to be innovated using blockchain are inheritance, dowry, and prenuptial agreements. Benefits of such innovation include smart contracts which can help women to secure and enforce their rights.
Employment is about livelihood. Millions of people need protection against exploitative practices, unfair dismissal, unpaid wages and dangerous working conditions. Employment contracts and their clauses can be registered in a blockchain. Complex schemes of intermediaries can be hold accountable through transparency. Data can be exchanged with labour inspectorates and watchdogs. In Brazil, a startup called CreditDream works on decentralized blockchain applications for universal access to credit.
Undoubtedly, there is a great potential for blockchain technologies to deliver just and fair solutions to millions and even billions of people who need justice. The creativity of the industry will lead the way. But there is a need for visionary leadership which steers innovation towards people’s most prevalent and pressing justice needs.