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The Statistical Status Quo of OGP Open Justice Commitments

Surya Khanna|

This blog is the second post in a multi-part series on open justice. The previous post made the case for open justice reform, whereas this post will delve into the status quo of open justice-related OGP commitments through a statistical lens. Given the constraints of a blog, this post will only delve into some of the relevant statistics. If you wish to learn more about the state of OGP open justice commitments or open justice itself, check out my piece entitled: “A Guide to Open Justice” available soon online.

Has your country or subnational government made an open justice commitment? If so, how many? Chances are around fifty-fifty that your OGP action plan does not contain any open justice commitments at all, and even if your plan did, it remains unlikely it contained more than two commitments.

Open justice represents a tiny fraction of OGP commitments. As of December 22nd, 2017, there were just over two thusand IRM-reviewed OGP commitments, with only seventy-four commitments (3.56 percent) related to open justice. Only thirty-one countries (around half) of all those who have made OGP commitments have made open justice commitments. The country with the most open justice commitments is Albania, with nine commitments, followed by Colombia and Brazil each with eight commitments. These commitment values are outliers, though, with twenty-three of the thirty-one countries having two or fewer commitments. The average number of commitments is about 2.39 per country, with a variance of about 4.88  (“A Guide to Open Justice,” 9).

Commitment Quality:

When looking at progress report performance, the quality of open justice OGP commitments tends to be quite high relative to OGP commitments overall. 12.16 percent of open justice commitments received stars in their progress reports, vs. 6.12 percent of OGP commitments overall. Moreover, this discrepancy is statistically significant (10). That open justice commitments perform better than commitments overall in their progress reports could arise from a variety of factors, including their highly transformative potential as much-needed reforms in a historically opaque space, and their strong relevance to OGP values like accountability.  In either case, open justice commitments represent a higher-quality subset of OGP commitments overall.

OGP Themes:

When it comes to OGP themes, as with OGP commitments overall, “transparency” as a theme enjoys the highest percentage of associated commitments – 54 percent for open justice commitments vs. 65 percent for commitments overall. However, unlike OGP commitments overall, “accountability” as a theme comprises the second highest percentage of associated commitments – 47 percent for open justice commitments vs. 30 percent for commitments overall. Interestingly, this extra focus on “accountability” in open justice commitments is indeed statistically significant (13).

Subject Matter:

The topics covered by open justice commitments fall into four categories, in order of prevalence:

  1. Improving access to justice system information: Commitments in this category focus on dissemination of information related to courts, crime, and the conduct of government officials that implicate the justice system (e.g. police brutality or formal bribery accusations against government functionaries). Usually, this information was not collected in the first place, not published externally, not mandated to be in the open data standard, or fragmented across hundreds of different web pages. Reforms that target increasing informational access often begin with commitments to create favorable law and regulatory change, and then utilize consolidated web portals and open data standards to implement the increases in access to justice system data. This category remains by far the most represented among commitments, with the vast majority of countries having made an open justice commitment making at least one commitment to improving access to information.

  2. Improving complaint and case management systems: Commitments in this category create new channels for complaints to be heard, usually by ombudsmen or judges, or improve current channels for complaints by putting case management systems online. These commitments often allow litigants or those accused of criminal offenses to track their cases online, file pleadings, and get informed of their rights and legal options. Some would include in this category commitments designed to allow police, public authorities, and neighbors to track incidence of crime geographically, though this type of commitment may more appropriately fall in the first category. This category contains the second highest number of open justice commitments, with countries like Albania and Colombia leading the way.

  3. Empowering the justice system to tackle corruption or fighting corruption within the justice system itself: Commitments in this category often take the form of legally empowering attorneys general, ministries of justice, and executive branch officials generally to pursue corruption cases against other members of government. However, commitments also exist in this category that permit judges, especially on the supreme court, to take proactive steps in investigating matters of corruption and fraud both internally and externally. Strong examples include increasing capacity of ombudspersons across several countries including Brazil and Jordan.

  4. Promoting civic participation often within the context of conflict resolution. Commitments in this category include efforts to broaden access to justice by increasing community involvement whenever interests are implicated, either as official parties (e.g. class members) or unofficial commentators (e.g. amicus brief submitters). These commitments often touch upon specific fields of law related to human rights and the environment. While these commitments make up the smallest category (for reasons we will touch upon later), they comprise a burgeoning area of commitments, including Costa Rica’s commitment to inter-population and inter-sector dialogue for alternative conflict resolution.

Statistics paint a picture, but stories bring those pictures to life. Join us next time, when we take a look at the status quo of open justice commitments through the lens of a few strong examples.

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