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Promoting Open Justice: Assessment of Justice-Related Commitments in OGP National Action Plans

Sandra Elena |

This is the fifth in a six blog series written by winners of the IDRC grant for research on OGP.

According to Transparency International’s Global Corruption Barometer 2013, the judiciary is perceived to be the third most corrupt institution in the world (after political parties and the police).

How can we address this situation and the mistrust of the public in the judiciary? The implementation of policies promoting transparency, participation and open data will allow judiciaries to increase their legitimacy, by promoting citizen participation mechanisms, improving judicial accountability and delivering high-quality service.

Even though the concept of open justice is new, it is possible to apply some of the general principles of open government and to adjust them to the justice sector.

Transparency: The publication of judicial information (judgments, judicial resolutions, statistics and administrative data) is essential to promote civic monitoring and evaluation of the judiciary and to design evidence-based judicial policy.

Technology and Innovation: Case management systems that provide for a more accessible court system and publication of data in open formats are the two most common innovations in the justice sector.

Accountability: The Judicial branch is one of the state institutions that is least subject to public scrutiny; only a few countries in the world have systemic strategies for judicial accountability or effective evaluation policies to improve the quality of the justice service.

Participation: There are several mechanisms to improve civil society participation within the judiciary; judicial portals and judicial centers of information are increasingly widespread. While they do not constitute by themselves a channel for participation, they allow people to engage in more informed participation. Traditional approaches such as mediation, conciliation, public hearings, arbitration and amicus curiae can be considered as superior steps for participation.

To understand the level of commitment of OGP countries on justice-related matters, CIPPEC examined National Action Plans through the OGP Explorer. The objective was to understand how many and what kind of commitments on justice-related matters countries are proposing within OGP.

Thirty-five out of 1985 commitments included in the OGP Explorer (IRM all commitments) dataset are on justice-related issues. This represents 1.76% of the total commitments.

Latin America seems to be the most active region proposing commitments on Justice. 71% of the Latin-American countries that are members of OGP presented justice commitments (Argentina, Brazil, Peru, Paraguay, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Mexico and El Salvador). Despite Europe representing roughly a 40% of OGP countries, only 17% of European countries in OGP (Spain, Romania, Hungary, Albania and Moldova) have delivered justice commitments. 40% of Asian countries in OGP (Mongolia, Georgia, Indonesia and Jordan) proposed commitments related to justice issues, and 25% of African countries (Kenya, Ghana) delivered this kind of commitments.

Twenty-six out of the 35 justice-related commitments are in the first Action Plans, as the total number of commitments in the first action plan is 1250 this represents 2% of the total commitments. Only 9 justice-related commitments correspond to the second and third cycle of Action Plans.  As the total number of commitments in this cycle is 734 these 9 commitments represent only 1% of total commitments in second and third Action Plans. Taking into account that most of the countries (16 out of 21) are in their second or third Action Plan, this implies a reduction of justice-related commitments over time.  

Commitments aimed at improving access to judicial information and judicial case management systems are the most common. The creation of portals with judicial information can be considered as a trend. The objective of these portals is to consolidate judicial information that was in different web pages, or produced but not made public, in one single, user-friendly site. The use of technology to improve case management (i.e. the digitalization of files, random allocation of cases to judges and recording of hearings) is also frequent.

One of the conclusions of the study is that commitments are more focused on transparency, access to information, innovation and technology compared to participation and accountability. Most of the content of the 35 commitments on justice was already part of judicial reform processes before the open government wave. This would not constitute a problem in itself if some additional open government values were added to these initiatives. It would be advisable to strengthen the accountability and civic participation values as a way to modernize judicial reform strategies towards an open judicial government.

In terms of judicial accountability, there is much to be done; even though the increase of judicial information is a pre-requisite to accountability, it is not enough. The open government community has to promote judiciaries that implement systems for the evaluation and public monitoring of the judicial system as a whole and of individual judges. Actual involvement of stakeholders in the resolution of cases and in the design and implementation of judicial public policies may be concrete innovative commitments judiciaries can adopt.

The full paper analyzing justice-related commitments in OGP is available for download here.