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Justice For All: Open Justice Moves Forward in Latin America

Justicia para Todos: La Justicia Abierta Avanza en América Latina

Sandra Elena|

According to the Justice for All report of the Task Force on Justice, 4.5 billion people worldwide suffer from unmet legal needs. Concerned by these findings, government and civil society representatives from around the world met in The Hague in February 2019 under the motto #JusticeForAll: 2019 Year of Justice. They pledged to strengthen access to justice in their respective countries, with an eye on compliance with Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 16. 

Governments and judiciaries in Latin America are innovating through the implementation of open government policies, like transparency, participation, and accountability in the justice sector. This implies a new people-centered approach: prioritize the justice problems that matter most to people, create more opportunities for them to engage in their societies and economies, and invest in what works to meet their legal needs.

Several judicial institutions in the region, such as ministries of justice, judicial powers, public prosecution and defense ministries, administrative tribunals, human rights offices, and others agree that the region’s current justice gap can be overcome with a more open justice system. 

Sandra Elena discussing the open justice agenda with other reformers in the region.

Next month in October, my country, Argentina, will take over as co-chair of the Open Government Partnership. Fostering an open justice agenda will be a priority. Argentina has been committed to an open justice policy for the past four years. I am currently leading the Ministry of Justice and the country’s first open judicial data initiative: the Open Justice Program. Our Open Judicial Data Portal is an unprecedented initiative, through which databases of the Ministry and 50 judicial institutions are being published as open data. This allows for high quality, primary judicial data to be freely accessed for the first time. Likewise, the sector’s main policies are being debated and co-created with civil society through the Justice 2020 participatory platform, which already has 60,000 active members. Our experience may serve as inspiration for other countries that are moving towards open justice.

In Costa Rica, the judiciary is currently implementing a successful open justice policy that includes a thorough participatory grassroots model and opening up judicial data. The judiciary decided to institutionalize this initiative through a systematic action plan that was co-created with civil society.

Colombia is another regional example of open justice. Since 2015, the State Council, the highest authority for administrative cases, has co-created policy commitments with civil society. These commitments cover topics such as accountability, the disclosure of financial statements by magistrates, civic participation in the election of public servants, and open data.

The Administrative Court of Guanajuato, Mexico celebrating their 32nd anniversary with an open justice conference.

News is also coming from Mexico. The Administrative Court of Guanajuato recently joined the Electoral Court in the path towards open justice. This administrative tribunal, key in protecting people’s rights, recently celebrated their 32nd anniversary with a conference on open justice. This is their first step towards the adoption of an open justice policy.

The Judicial Branch of Guatemala, supported by the civic organization Red Ciudadana, is debating an open justice policy draft, which will be reviewed by civil society. Its approval is expected by the end of this year.

Ecuador is also moving the open justice agenda forward. Civil society, led by Fundación Ciudadanía y Desarrollo, co-created a road map for judicial reform based on open justice, which is now under debate with the authorities of the main judicial institutions for its implementation. 

Countries in Latin America are using OGP as a platform to boost open justice. So far, around 15 governments in the region have made a total of 69 justice-related commitments. The experience of countries such as Argentina, Colombia or Costa Rica proves the importance of OGP as a platform to leverage both internal and external support to push forward open justice-inspired reforms.

There is still a long way ahead of us. The pending challenges are huge. Several questions need to be worked out like: How should governance in an open justice model work? What are its core components? Should we prioritize open judicial data portals, participation platforms or mechanisms providing access to justice? Are isolated initiatives enough, or is a comprehensive policy approach necessary? What is the role of international organizations in strengthening national open justice policies? What is the most effective way to advance open justice innovation strategies?

OGP, as a platform for exchange and co-creation, will play a key role in helping us find the answers. We envision OGP as a source of comparative cases on transformative country action, a place to share experiences across regions, provide knowledgeable facilitators that can foster open justice and help build a global open justice coalition.

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