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New Data Reinforce that Access to Justice is an Open Government Issue

Nuevos datos que confirman que el acceso a la justicia es un asunto de gobierno abierto

Sarah Chamness Long|

The open government community has seen growing support for linking justice to open government in recent years, spurred in part by alarming levels of exclusion from justice. According to the World Justice Project’s (WJP) justice gap assessment, more than 5 billion people have one unmet justice need, with many confronted by multiples injustices. Efforts to advance justice reforms have also been prompted by the inclusion of justice in the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development under target 16.3, which calls on member states to “ensure equal access to justice for all.” Support for linking justice to open government has been further fueled by increased recognition that access to justice underpins poverty reduction, empowers citizens, bolsters anti-corruption efforts, and improves service delivery. These are essential components of the open government agenda.

In response to this momentum, the Open Government Partnership (OGP) just released a paper on Access to Justice, the first in a three-part policy series on justice produced as part of the OGP Global Report. The paper uses data from the World Justice Project’s (WJP) Global Insights on Access to Justice 2019 study to examine legal needs and access to justice in OGP countries, and links findings to relevant commitments in OGP  two-year action plans. The WJP dataset provides comparable household survey data on legal needs and access to justice across 101 countries, representing the voices of more than 100,000 people. Data for the 60 OGP countries included in the dataset reveal that:

  • Legal problems are common and tend to compound. On average, half (51%) of people in OGP countries experienced at least one legal problem in the last two years. Individuals with one legal problem tend to have multiple legal problems, with disputes related to illness and injury having very strong correlations with employment issues and problems obtaining public benefits.
  • Problems with basic documentation and services are significantly more common in poorer countries. Legal problems are unevenly distributed across OGP countries. Those with high poverty rates have a higher prevalence of legal problems – such as basic identification, access to water and electricity, and land titles – that disproportionately burden the poor. 
  • Only a slight majority of people with legal problems knew where to get legal advice and less than half obtained it. On average, 53% of respondents with legal problems in OGP countries knew where to go for advice and only 41% reported being able to get the help that they needed.
  • Self-help and use of expert legal advisors are reinforcing. One in five people in OGP countries got help from sources like the internet, a booklet, or a mobile application. The data also show that people who educate themselves are also likely to use professional legal services.
  • Only one in six people turned to an authority to resolve their legal problem. The most common authorities in OGP countries were courts and tribunals (48%), government offices (43%), and police and formal complaints processes (40%).
  • Two in five people with a legal problem faced some sort of hardship as a result. Physical or stress-related ill health was the most common hardship in OGP countries, and it was felt disproportionately by women. By contrast, men disproportionately reported problems with alcohol and drugs as they dealt with their justice-related issues.

Photo Credit: Aubrey Wade/Namati

These data reinforce that access to justice is foundational to poverty reduction and inclusion, as demonstrated by the prevalence of legal problems related to employment, health, and basic public services. What’s more, many of the key barriers to accessing justice in OGP countries – service delivery, access to information, and legal empowerment – are also essential to the open government agenda. 

But this paper does more than paint a picture of the state of access to justice in OGP countries. The open government community can push for justice-related reforms by using the paper as:

  1. A diagnostic tool for assessing the most pressing legal needs and barriers to accessing justice. In addition to the 30+ aggregate findings presented in the paper, policymakers and advocates can use WJP’s interactive microsite for the study to explore results for their country.
  2. A framework for crafting appropriate justice interventions. This paper describes 28 commitments in OGP aimed at collecting data on legal needs, enhancing legal capability, improving participation in the justice system, strengthening justice processes, and improving outcomes for those with legal needs.
  3. An advocacy tool to illustrate that access to justice matters for inclusive development. Justice has traditionally lagged behind other development issues – such as health and education – when it comes to providing empirical evidence of its importance for development. It should come as no surprise then that international aid for justice accounts for only 1.8% of total aid flows, as compared to 13% for health and 8% for education. In order to mobilize resources and political will, open government reformers must make the case to governments and donors that access to justice is foundational to both human and economic development. This paper is an important tool for doing just this. 


Photo Credit: Reuters / Joe Skipper via AdobeStock

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