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A Clear Commitment to Justice

Maha JweiedandGustavo Perez Ara|

Since the launch of OGP, members have included justice commitments in their action plans to open justice institutions and improve access to justice for individuals with legal needs. Some of these commitments make  the justice system more accountable, participatory, and transparent while others support individuals with justice problems to resolve their legal problems.

Thanks to its inclusion in the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Agenda, activity around justice reforms has accelerated in a number of global settings – including OGP. In fact, justice has become one of the most popular policy areas across the Partnership and the Independent Reporting Mechanism (IRM) has found many of these commitments to be highly impactful. But what do these commitments address and how can they be designed to have the potential to open government and result in meaningful change?

Types of Justice Commitments

Open Justice 

Open justice applies the principles of open government – transparency, civic participation, and public accountability – to the justice system. In order for a justice system to be open, actors such as the courts, police, prosecutors, legal aid, pretrial services, and corrections must operate openly. At its core, open justice reforms ask whether these actors are operating transparently and with accountability mechanisms in place when instances of misconduct are alleged. These mechanisms could include, for example,  procedures for individuals to bring grievances or complaints or even participate in oversight.

According to IRM research, Uruguay’s three justice commitments in their 2018-2020 OGP action plan are part of the country’s strategy for open justice.Their implementation has led to significant progress in making judicial processes more transparent by developing a system that enables all parties involved to access public hearings by video and automatically export the judiciary’s statistical information in open format.

Access to Justice 

Access to justice is more than merely access to lawyers or courts. It is a component of the rule of law that at its core means that individuals and communities with legal needs know where to go for help, obtain the help they need, and move through a system that offers procedural, substantive, and expeditious justice. Commitments that strive to make laws public and easy to find or make legal processes more fair, open, and public all can improve transparency. Additionally, commitments that aim to empower individuals and communities to know the laws and legal processes that affect them, shape the laws by engaging with authorities, and ultimately use them, strengthens civic participation. And commitments that help individuals enhance their legal capability to resolve their legal problems on their own or find the legal help they need improves government accountability. This is clear, for example, when individuals can initiate legal proceedings (administrative or judicial) to secure government benefits owed to them or their community members – such as health, food, or education benefits. Critically, where loss of liberty or even life is at risk, access to legal help safeguards the right to due process and holds the government accountable for wrongful convictions or unlawful prosecutions.

As reported by the IRM, North Macedonia’s two commitments on access to justice show how OGP can be used to promote equal access to justice, especially for poor and historically marginalized groups. By strengthening the legal framework through consultation with experts, North Macedonia eased requirements to access legal help, which has significantly increased requests and approvals of aid in just one year.

Progress in Recent Action Plans

With more experience, increased support from OGP, and more opportunities for peer learning – including through the OGP Coalition on Justice – members have collectively improved the design of justice commitments in the latest action plans. In fact, of the ten action plans with justice commitments submitted in 2020, the IRM found that 50% were ambitious. The most recent IRM Action Plan Reviews highlight some of the elements that can make justice commitments stronger.


First, they clearly highlight why the focus of the activity relates to a pressing national issue or of national interest.

First, they clearly highlight why the focus of the activity relates to a pressing national issue or of national interest. Kenya, for instance, is taking advantage of the OGP platform to implement its Alternative Justice Policy systems, which promises significant change on citizens’ access to justice, especially for marginalized communities through a community-based justice model.


Second, commitments are specific about who will benefit from its implementation.

Second, commitments are specific about who will benefit from its implementation. Albania aims to increase legal aid to marginalized groups and explicitly names the beneficiaries of these services as including victims of domestic violence or sexual abuse, minors, and persons with disabilities who qualify for government benefits, as well as beneficiaries of other social protection programs.


Finally, strong commitments tend to innovate for the national context.

Finally, strong commitments tend to innovate for the national context. For example, the Netherlands – where the government’s management of citizen grievances and handling of complaints has been an important issue – is advancing the digitalization of its justice system by implementing a new Complaints Open Data Standard. Public complaints from across the country will be published in open data format on the central government-owned platform for open government information.

Looking Ahead

Learning from the design of these promising commitments, OGP members co-creating justice commitments might similarly consider how their activity responds to and innovates around issues of concern within their national context, who would benefit from the activity, and design the activity clearly for those groups. To ensure that commitments clearly describe the significance of the results expected and that they are relevant to justice and open government, OGP members could consider responding to the set of questions provided in the table below.

The opportunities to design strong, ambitious justice commitments that respond to national needs are numerous. And as more OGP members include justice in their action plans, the potential to share their successes with the OGP community increases. The IRM and OGP staff remain committed to passing on these lessons in design and implementation of justice commitments to the entire open government community.

Open Justice

Commitment area Questions to consider

Justice actors and institutions:

  • Police
  • Courts
  • Prosecutors
  • Legal Aid
  • Corrections Officials

Are there accountability mechanisms in place for individuals to file a grievance or complaint in a manner that would be convenient to use?

Can individuals – especially those who come into contact with the justice system or institution – provide input on how to better open the institution?

Does the justice actor or institution make its data and/or resources available to the public in easily accessible formats?  What is the purpose of making the data or resources available?


Access to Justice

Commitment area Questions to consider

Legal Aid

Is legal aid provided as a right under national law and for what types of cases – criminal and/or civil cases?  Does legal aid help individuals resolve disputes or enforce obligations around public benefits or social protection programs?

Spectrum of Legal Help

What types of cases do they help individuals resolve and in what stages of the process?

Legal Empowerment

Is the commitment’s goal to empower individuals to engage in public debate, provide, or make contributions to efforts geared at reforming the system – in addition to navigating the system?

Streamlining or Innovating Legal processes

Does the commitment improve people’s ability to access a legal process or resolve a legal problem more expediently, through publicly available laws and information?

If the commitment concerns online systems, to what extent do individuals needing to access those systems have access to the internet and/or computers/phones to make those systems useful?


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