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Community Justice: Putting People First

Justicia comunitaria: Poniendo a la gente primero

Adna Karamehic-OatesandMaha Jweied|

Community justice models take many forms, but they’re rooted in one thing: the importance of community involvement in justice system processes. From community-based justice centers and the use of community paralegals to alternative systems rooted in culture and tradition, community justice models are a great way for the open government community to approach justice reform. Their design is a collaborative process between government, civil society, and communities, improving civic participation in justice processes for individuals with legal needs.

OGP Coalition on Justice The OGP Coalition on Justice is a group of OGP members, civil society organizations, and other national and international partners advancing a people-centered approach to justice through their OGP action…

Over the past few years, promoting transparent, accessible, and inclusive justice systems has become an increased focus in the open government community. In 2019, the Open Government Partnership (OGP) formed the OGP Coalition on Justice to bring together its members co-creating or implementing justice commitments in their action plans to share ideas and approaches. Here are a few things we’ve learned from the community along the way:

People often prefer to resolve their problems through community-based justice rather than the formal justice system. Community-based justice tends to be more affordable and accessible and can resonate better with the local culture. A 2019 survey found that only 10% of Kenyans use the formal justice system. At a recent meeting of the OGP Coalition on Justice, Annette Mbogoh from the legal advice organization Kituo cha Sheria noted it is vital to harness already existing practices, like the legal framework in Kenya that has enabled the adoption of community-based justice into the formal system, and ensure these practices comply with human rights principles. She shared that in her experience, women in particular prefer to use community-based justice. From an open government perspective, community justice models can improve the justice system’s responsiveness to people’s problems and appeal to populations that are less comfortable with formal processes.

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From an open government perspective, community justice models can improve the justice system’s responsiveness to people’s problems and appeal to populations that are less comfortable with formal processes.  

Adna Karamehic-Oates and Maha Jweied

Community justice models can alleviate the pressure on the overall justice system. If and where they are integrated into the justice ecosystem in a country, community justice models can expand accessibility to justice services to more people and contribute to peace and stability in communities. Community Justice Centers (CJCs) in Ukraine supported by the USAID New Justice Program are providing legal information and assistance, offering alternative dispute resolution services, conducting public outreach and awareness activities, and helping identify legal issues and mobilizing community resources to resolve them. While they are not courts and do not administer justice, CJCs cooperate with courts by providing consultations with parties about court procedures, raising awareness about the judiciary and providing mediation services to avoid costly litigation and reduce court caseloads.

PHOTO: Credit: Chernihiv Community Justice Center

The OGP co-creation process is an apt framework for discussing and designing a community justice mechanism that will address people’s problems. Community and local civil society organizations that provide justice services to the local population can bring their voice to the policy discussion based on lived experience. In the West Papua province in Indonesia, as part of an OGP commitment, the local ministry office and legal aid providers are training priests, heads of tribes, and customary community leaders as paralegals and human rights complaints posts, so they can serve members of churches and communities nearby facing legal problems.

Within OGP, a discussion of community based justice models is a very relevant and timely one. Research shows that the pandemic has severely impacted justice systems and widened the justice gap. It has also exacerbated societal inequities that existed even before the pandemic, which continues unabated in many parts of the world. This is why future action must focus on renewing societal and social contracts, rather than resetting them. Community justice models – that are often more accessible to communities and more trusted by them to solve the problems that exist locally – can be part of the solution.

Thank you to David Vaughn of USAID’s New Justice Program, Annette Mbogoh of Kituo cha Sheria, and Masan Nurpian from the Indonesia Ministry of Law and Human Rights for their contributions at the OGP Coalition on Justice meeting in May 2021 that inspired this blog post.

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