5. Strategy 2: promoting evidence-based practive


5. Strategy 2:
evidence-based practice

Trend Report 2021 – Delivering Justice / 5. Strategy 2: promoting evidence-based practive

The second strategy a task force should consider aims to increase the effectiveness of what is done to prevent or resolve justice problems: evidence-based practice. Justice services are transitioning from executing processes prescribed by rules of procedure to offering a more complete set of interventions needed to prevent or resolve justice problems. Including separate interventions into effective justice journeys for people experiencing a justice problem is a major challenge. Currently, only 30-40% of justice problems are resolved. Between 70% and 90% of people facing a justice problem take action to resolve it. This means that many people take no action or get stuck. High-impact problems have even lower resolution rates. Few people achieve high-quality outcomes. 

In this chapter, we describe building blocks for evidence-based practice. Treatments generally consist of a process where people exchange information, get to a better understanding of their respective needs, and make decisions jointly or are guided by a third party to implement them. Bringing together effective interventions into a comprehensive treatment for land grabs, work conflicts, domestic violence or other pressing justice problems is needed. This will depend on investigating the outcomes that people experiencing these problems generally need. Interventions that can achieve these results will then need to be selected via literature research and collection of best practices from the field. This requires substantial R&D efforts and can eventually lead to treatment guidelines that are broadly accepted by justice practitioners. Implementing evidence-based practice, and integrating the necessary interventions into existing and new service delivery models, is the next step. Increasing the effectiveness of interventions can have huge benefits. For a specialised provider of evidence-based justice services it may be possible to increase resolution rates from 35% to 70%. Is this realistic? Seventy percent is the resolution rate often found in evaluations of programmes that implement mediation on a voluntary basis, without specialisation, and leave the specific type of mediation to the individual mediator. Judicial decisions tend to have a compliance rate of 50% or more. If the most effective ways of working can be brought together in evidence-based guidelines and if such treatments can be implemented in 80% of the country within ten years, the burden of injustice will be cut by half. If game-changing justice services standardise this way of working, the burden of injustice could be resolved even more quickly. Evidence-based working offers a clear path to achieving the goals and targets a task force has set.

Making the case for evidence-based working

In our work, we have learned that the case for evidence-based practice needs to be made carefully. A starting point may be that legal professionals are accustomed to applying evidence-based practice standards to the work of doctors and other professionals. Evidence-based working is often promoted by experts in corrections, and forensic or therapeutic interventions. Family courts hear evidence on appropriate treatments for distressed families in separation cases. 

However, implementing evidence-based practice in courts or legal services may lead to resistance from legal professionals who believe that it is first and foremost their individual skill set and experience that matters. They may describe a lawyer’s representation of a client’s interests and a judge’s handling of a case as a form of art. In common law countries, trials may be equated with “the real way” to deliver justice, even though trials have become rare events and most solutions result from negotiated settlements. 

We also meet development professionals and legal experts who hesitate to talk about best practice and research-based interventions. They are motivated by respect for the autonomy of communities to develop their own ways of delivering justice. Or they are  uncertain whether international best practice will work in local settings. In the following discussion, we explore how the case for evidence-based working can be made and how this resistance can be overcome. 

When a task force studies the data, its members will usually find that the supply side of the “market for fair solutions” is very fragmented. Individuals in cities are served by independent practitioners or by small law firms. Courts operate in one county and within a given court; each judge develops an individual way of working. Informal justice is delivered at the village level by volunteers. Between providers, there is little structured interaction and learning. In such a fragmented market, the benefits of standardisation and sharing know-how are considerable. 

Moreover, the way people are supported to achieve fair solutions is largely shaped by the roles of justice practitioners within institutions. In responding to a case of domestic violence, for example, the police may calm things without doing their due diligence to ascertain whether similar reports from the same household have been made already or investigate whether the violence is a persistent issue. A prosecutor may begin preparing for a court case. A doctor might focus on medical treatment. An NGO offering a safe house may or may not have a room available. A lawyer may start negotiating a solution or preparing a civil court case. Each professional helper is most likely to apply the interventions he or she specialises in and that align with the business model of his or her practice. Interventions applied by different practitioners in the same case may even conflict or work against each other. This often happens when the parties involved consult different types of practitioners: for example, when a husband consults a lawyer specialising in financial divorce settlements and the wife turns to a family mediator focusing on future family relationships, this can lead to additional conflict.

Within a professional role, the interventions and overall treatment for justice problems may not be that well described. NGOs and the police may have scripts for their interventions, informed by best practice and research. Lawyers in small law firms or judges are more likely to rely on their own judgement than on the collective intelligence of their peers. Their effectiveness can be increased if they would accept the principles of evidence-based practice. 

Justice practitioners intervene in ways that heavily impact people’s lives. Their actions have effects on people’s rights to freedom, their family relationships, their property rights, their work, their personal security, their housing, their farmland and their access to government services. Whether making such interventions with due regard for the likely effects on people’s lives can be seen as an ethical duty is something that can be explored with stakeholders (see box for suggestion).

Evidence-based working: an ethical duty for justice practitioners?

In the fields of medicine, psychotherapy and social work embracing  evidence-practice is increasingly seen as an ethical imperative. Using evidence wisely, also when evidence is scarce, is seen as an essential duty of professionals.  Take the example of domestic violence. Helping to solve a domestic violence problem requires thoughtful interventions that lead to a response that is fair, effective, proportionate and sustainable, with sufficient control by the survivor and without undesirable side-effects. Different forms of domestic violence exist, each requiring a different approach. Any intervention should aim to prevent new violence in a way that is tailored to the situation at hand. Outcomes may include access to housing and improvements to the financial situation of family members. If domestic violence leads to criminal prosecution, a mother may have to raise her children alone with a family income that has been dramatically reduced. 

There is an enormous body of knowledge about the diagnosis of domestic violence and the effectiveness of different interventions. Different forms of therapies have been tested on outcomes for both the survivor and the perpetrator.  

Can an individual practitioner be expected to keep up with this research and develop the best way to work with domestic violence cases? Is it acceptable that this knowledge is not used when a professional intervenes in ways that shape the future of women, men and children?

How might a Hippocratic oath for justice practitioners – similar to those used in the medical professions – be worded? When lawyers and judges vow to uphold the constitution, what can be added to their pledge to ensure they do no harm that could be avoided by systematically learning from colleagues and research?

Defining and monitoring outcomes

Evidence-based working is results-oriented, meaning it begins with the outcome in mind. Defining and monitoring outcomes is crucial. In individual cases, justice practitioners are increasingly trained to ask disputants about their interests – their wishes, worries and needs – and perhaps about the solutions they propose to serve these interests. For particular types of justice problems, the interests and solutions follow the same pattern. In personal injury cases, for example, victims tend to need information about what happened, recognition of harm, psychological support and help to reorganise their personal and professional lives. Insurance companies generally want financial predictability. It is also in their interest that victims are  motivated to find adequate sources of income, because that is likely to reduce their liability.

Task force members may engage with these outcomes through an exercise along the following lines. Imagine a paradigmatic case of land grabbing. Remember an accident in which people died and others could have prevented it. Think about a conflict between neighbours involving lots of noise, hostile communication and threats of violence. Then close your eyes and imagine how these people live and act six months from now. What does peace and justice look like for them? What is in their settlement agreement? 

Defining outcomes can start as simply as that. In a conflict between neighbours, outcomes that are likely to be valued are: absence of nuisance, resolution of border issues, improved communication, satisfaction with relationships, absence of violence and the fear of violence, and restoration for the harm done. 

Defining outcomes systematically may require an analysis of hundreds of settlement agreements for a particular type of justice problem. Research can identify trends and commonalities. Focus groups can select the most important elements of these agreements and identify key issues that need to be resolved in a typical case. HiiL has begun this kind of people-centred outcomes research.

Outcomes can also be defined and monitored in more general terms. On the basis of a literature research, HiiL developed survey questions that measured the quality of an outcome across four dimensions: distributive justice, restorative justice, effective problem resolution and transparency (meaning an explanation of why this outcome and not another one).

Once the outcomes have been identified, monitoring can begin. Providers of justice services can monitor outcomes during the process and after the service has been delivered. With questions such as, “to what extent has the nuisance in your neighbourhood already diminished?”, clients can be asked to monitor their progress as well. 

Problem-solving courts: outcomes monitoring in the community

Measuring and monitoring people-centred outcomes was key to the early success of problem-solving courts. Because the problem-solving approach was so different from the status quo, demonstrating evidence that it worked was necessary for building political and financial support. This meant clearly articulating the goals of problem-solving courts and finding ways to measure progress towards them. 

The extent to which a particular (problem-solving or traditional) court monitors progress towards these people-centred outcomes depends on its ability to track compliance and behaviour change among participants. This can be achieved through regular compliance reviews, which provide an ongoing opportunity for the court to communicate with participants and respond to their concerns and circumstances. Investing in electronic data systems that track and coordinate information makes it easier for a court to monitor its overall impact on case outcomes and to improve the quality of its mandates.

Successful outcome monitoring depends crucially on a court’s ability to develop strong relationships with researchers. Without this, early problem-solving courts like the Red Hook Community Justice Center would not have been able, for example, to quantify the impact of a seven-day jail stay in terms of budget, jail population, and arrests per month. Strong research partnerships made it possible to compare successful and unsuccessful court participants, which was necessary to assess and improve the quality of the court’s services.

Outcome monitoring at the Red Hook Community Justice Center was not without its challenges. Because most people who come before the court are charged with less serious crimes, their treatment mandates are relatively short. The short amount of time the Red Hook staff and service providers have to work with these participants means that outcomes related to individual progress are not likely to show a full picture of the court’s impact. The Red Hook Community Justice Center addressed this by measuring outcomes related to the court’s impact on the community. What was the effect on social cohesion and stability, it asked, when someone’s brother, father, or son was allowed to remain in the community instead of being incarcerated?

  • The OECD (2019) makes a strong case for focusing on and monitoring outcomes.
  • For examples of outcomes that HiiL has identified in the past, visit the Solving and Preventing page on the Justice Dashboard (HiiL n.d.-s). These examples are partly justice problem-specific and partly based on the aforementioned dimensions of distributive justice, restorative justice, effective problem resolution and transparency of the outcome. These dimensions are monitored in HiiL’s Justice Needs and Satisfaction Survey 2.0.
  • For more information on how problem-solving courts monitor outcomes, see the case study on Problem-Solving Courts in the annexure to this report.

Sharing best practice and research through treatment guidelines

Evidence-based treatment guidelines are the primary tools to inform practitioners about best practices and research. Such guidelines contain recommendations for selecting interventions and planning treatments that are most likely to achieve positive outcomes for the parties involved. 

The methods for developing and using guidelines in the medical sector are well established and can be applied to the justice sector. In the justice sector, evidence-based working is at an early stage. Justice practitioners increasingly share best practices and participate in skills training. Research on mediation techniques is increasingly available. The body of knowledge on ways to adjudicate disputes is growing. Different types of support for negotiations are being tested. 

Most of the evidence given in the justice sector consists of expert opinions or project evaluations. Few interventions have been tested in randomised controlled trials – although Harvard Law School’s Access to Justice Lab is beginning to change this. Developing guidelines is likely to gradually improve the quality of research and practice. Guidelines generate dialogue about what works, bring attention to the decisions that matter most during treatment, and highlight where new research is needed.  

An indirect benefit of working with guidelines is that it may help to reorganise expertise on what works in legal and justice processes aiming to prevent and resolve conflicts. The prevailing research culture in political science, legal science, and socio-legal research is to describe and explain current practices or to criticise proposals for reform. Legal theory and law and economics research tend to be theoretical. Conflict resolution, negotiation theory, innovation of justice services, regulation of legal services, and reform of legal procedures is studied by small groups. Each of these topics is an emerging academic discipline, loosely embedded in social sciences and law faculties; they are led by small groups of experts in academia and justice institutions. However, rigorous people-centred justice programming requires these disciplines to be connected. Instead of describing current practice, strong research and development capabilities are needed, similar to those that exist for tech, health care, and agriculture. 

People-centred guidelines describe interventions and treatments from the perspective of the people involved. What actions do parties need to take in order to resolve a conflict on terminating a work relationship? What practitioner-led interventions are most likely to deliver outcomes that allow the worker and the employer to move on? 

Addressing the consequences of violence committed by youth in a community requires a holistic approach. Resolving a family conflict happens through interventions that involve husbands, spouses and children. People-centred justice guidelines are thus different from those developed by police, prosecution, courts, therapists or social workers. Practitioners tend to focus on the interventions they can deliver for individual clients and on the rules they want to enforce. Guidelines for people-centred justice aim to combine these third party perspectives alongside the perspective of the parties involved. In this way, they are multidisciplinary by nature.

Guidelines aim to inform practitioners about what works. They provide a common vocabulary between different professionals working together on the same case. It is left to the professional to apply this knowledge to the individual case in a responsible way. The following box describes how individual treatments can be designed informed by evidence. 

Problem-solving courts: combining individualised treatment with evidence-based practice

Problem-solving courts have introduced a number of interventions that have been proven to deliver people-centred outcomes for the communities they serve. Although different interventions work for different populations, direct engagement with participants and the delivery of individualised treatments are key elements of the problem-solving orientation that all problem-solving courts share. 

Direct engagement means that the judge at once speaks to participants directly and that they are actively engaged in producing a positive change in their lives. This effort to ensure that participants feel heard and respected, and experience the process as fair, is supported by research on procedural justice. 

Individualised treatment means that the interventions delivered are tailored to the specific problems of each participant. This requires that the court offers a continuum of treatment modalities and services to respond to the variety and degrees of need that participants present. This service plan must be revisited by the court on a regular basis and adjusted depending on the participant’s progress.

Despite this shared approach to justice delivery, different problem-solving courts have identified different types of treatments and ways to monitor whether they work that are unique to the population they serve.

Community courts such as the Red Hook Community Justice Center generally work with the residents in their neighbourhood to identify what is important to them, rather than impose a predetermined set of solutions.

Certain interventions have been proven to improve outcomes for communities, victims, and individuals with justice system involvement when applied to low-level cases. These interventions include: using validated screening and assessment tools; monitoring and enforcing court orders; using rewards and sanctions; promoting information technology; enhancing procedural justice; expanding sentencing options (to include community service and shorter interventions that incorporate individualised treatment); and engaging the community.

  • For more information about best practices and research undertaken by problem-solving courts, see Centre for Justice Innovation, (2019). Problem-solving courts: An evidence review
  • Examples of recommendations can be found on the Family Justice page and Land Justice page on HiiL’s (n.d.-t; n.d.-u) Justice Dashboard.
  • HiiL(n.d.-v) has developed a method for Developing Evidence-Based Guidelines. Justice guidelines are collections of recommendations that support justice practitioners to prevent and resolve different types of justice problems in an evidence-based way. Central to the process of developing guidelines is bringing together literature on what works for people (evidence-based practice) and best practices from local justice practitioners (practice-based evidence).
  • See case study on ‘Problem-Solving Courts’ in the annexure of this report to learn more about usage of evidence-based practices.

Developing effective treatments: recurring building blocks

An effective treatment for a justice problem can be deconstructed like a set of Lego. Land disputes require reliable ways of mapping territories. Burglaries committed by individuals with substance use disorders can be addressed with tailored treatment and restitution for victims. Each category of justice problem requires a specific set of interventions that fits the outcomes needed for that type of problem. 

Some interventions can be used across many problem types. The practice of law has patterns and stages. Dispute resolution practices move from containing a conflict towards opening lines of communication, negotiation, mediation and adjudication (see graphic below). 

These building blocks can be used to create effective step-by-step treatments, in a similar way as standardised treatments are being developed in the health care sector (HiiL n.d.-b). In the justice sector, this is sometimes referred to as dispute system design. One international trend is to use combinations of mediation and adjudication. In courts, judicial mediation is developing. 

The building blocks unpack legal advice, mediation, informal justice and court adjudication into concrete treatment tasks undertaken by disputants and those who guide them. Mediation is a catchphrase for a series of interventions aiming at improving communication, reestablishing interpersonal respect and identifying needs, issues and possible solutions. Each of these tasks can be optimised. 

Adjudication is also a complex activity. In order to solve a real life conflict, it is generally insufficient to establish the facts and then apply the law. Crucially, people seeking justice do not work from the substantive rules that need to be applied, but from the problem they experience and the criteria that are helpful in reaching a solution that works for them. “Sharing” the burdens of injustice takes place using formulas and other objective criteria for allocating compensation, contributions, debts or assets. Adjudication also includes taking decisions on issues that the parties cannot agree on and creating conditions for acceptance of the outcomes. Ensuring compliance, as well as adjusting the results to new realities, is also needed. Sanctions are in reality a bundle of interventions serving different objectives: restoring harm or punishment.

Can every justice problem be solved?

Court leaders in the United States have expressed an ambition to provide 100% access to justice. Equal access to justice for all is also the ambition of Sustainable Development Goal 16.3. Is this realistic? 

Historically, legal institutions have been optimistic about their ability to resolve a diverse range of justice problems. Courts now deal with genocide, claims about slavery and environmental degradation. Criminal networks are dismantled by the same police forces working to respond to incest and intimate partner violence. Speech is regulated through defamation claims in courts and by content moderation on social media. 

Theoretically, every conflict can be understood in terms of the procedural and substantive interests of the people involved. Conflict resolution therefore consists of maximising the interests of both parties through integrative (win-win) solutions and distributive (win-lose) bargaining. In the conflict resolution context, win-win solutions are measures that improve relationships and generate future gains, such as apologies, measures to prevent future harm and measures to undo harm where still possible. If the harm caused cannot be undone, if the costs of remedies are substantial, or if control over assets is at stake, monetary transfers or a reallocation of assets can be part of the solution. This raises distributive issues over which the parties have to bargain. 

Over time, legal systems have created algorithms to decide on distributive issues: schedules for the calculation of damages, formulas for child support, norms for severance pay, guidelines for acceptable levels of noise and formulas for contributions to victim compensation funds. Theoretically, it is possible to design a formula for any distributive issue in any type of conflict. Such formulas can be simple or consist of a more complicated schedule, which differentiates outcomes according to the needs or contributions of specific groups. Once a formula is developed, it can be presented to a diverse group of experts, citizens or stakeholders and calibrated until it achieves maximum support. 

When framed as a process of supplying procedural justice, integrative problem solving and improving the acceptability of distributive outcomes, conflict resolution becomes an optimisation process. Economists have also designed a criterion for when this optimisation process should come to an end. They recommend minimising the sum of error costs and decision costs. If additional attempts to improve the outcomes are more costly than the probability of an error in the outcomes multiplied by the probability of an error, the process should stop.

Interpreted in this way, each justice problem can be resolved, although in real life, this framework may be difficult to implement. 

Dispute system design is now an established field of research. Methods to develop dispute resolution systems are described in a number of handbooks (Amsler Martinez and Smit 2020; Hodges 2020; Oetzel and Ting-Toomey 2013), which are a valuable resource for innovators. Task forces can use them when designing standardised treatments for employment disputes, family conflicts, personal injury problems and much more.

Involving two parties: solving the submission problem

The building block of ‘Meeting’ in the graphic above deserves additional attention, because it is so central to designing effective treatments (HiiL n.d.-w). As discussed in Chapter 3, many innovators that came to us with smart mediation and arbitration procedures ignored the submission problem. Five out of the seven gamechangers can only work for the person with the justice problem if the other party can be convinced to participate. 

The essence of a conflict or a crime is that somebody else is causing trouble for you. This person needs to cooperate for there to be a solution. Any intervention by the police, court, mediator or other third party will only work if the second party is available. 

The submission problem is inherent to every dispute. Solving debt problems requires the cooperation of creditors. Victims, or the prosecutors acting on their behalf, need perpetrators to cooperate. A divorce happens between two people who decide they do not get along well and want to legally separate. 

The other party should somehow submit to the use of the justice service to solve the problem as the original party sees it. This is unlikely to happen in the context of a conflict or crime, because it is not usually in the interest of the other party to do so or because communication has broken down. Sometimes the entire effort of one party to a conflict is focused on ‘avoiding submission’. Expensive lawyers are hired and legal loopholes are found to argue that a court has no jurisdiction or that mediation is inappropriate for the case.   

The submission problem should be solved first, because otherwise the service will not benefit many people or will only benefit  the people who least need it: parties who are both motivated and able to solve the problem by themselves. 

One solution to the submission problem is to make the justice service mandatory. Courts make adjudication mandatory. Governments have been hesitant to make mediation mandatory when starting pilots with it. When they learned that voluntary mediation is growing very slowly – even when supported by awareness raising campaigns – they often made mediation mandatory or obliged litigants to consider mediation before starting a court case (Rhee 2021). This happened in a number of European countries, in South Africa, in China and in jurisdictions in Australia, Canada and the United States. 

Social norms and other incentives may help as well. In the realm of consumer disputes, the submission problem is addressed by exposing non-cooperation on the part of the company that has delivered the defective product or failed to deliver the service on time. The reputation of the other party may be at stake if he or she refuses to cooperate with a dispute resolution process in the community. Non-cooperation can be sanctioned by ostracising a community member who does not submit to a dispute resolution mechanism. 

  • Solutions for the submission problem are explored in the Meeting building block on HiiL’s Justice Dashboard (HiiL n.d.-w). 
  • The literature on mandatory mediation is extensive. It mostly finds that voluntary mediation leads to a settlement at a slightly higher rate than mandatory mediation. The number of disputes resolved by a mandatory mediation programme (with sufficient capacity) is vastly higher than the number of disputes resolved by a voluntary program, however.

Turning top-down legal thinking into people-centred design

When designing effective resolution processes by combining interventions and using the building blocks, inspiration can be taken from human-centred design and service design concepts. These approaches bring a people-centred perspective to laws and legal procedures.

For example, one legal maxim is that everybody should know the law and that lack of knowledge of the law can be remedied with legal information. From a human-centred design perspective, the questions to ask are: What information about the law do people with justice problems need? When do they need it? How do they want to be informed? What other information might they need to resolve their problem? 

Designers of legal services have learned that information on how to resolve a justice problem is most valuable when it arrives in time. Information about communication skills such as active listening, effective negotiation and mediation is more likely to be helpful than information about broad constitutional rights.  

Another legal maxim is that decisions need to be enforceable. When discussing community justice services, lawyers often note that the outcomes of informal justice processes are difficult to enforce. From a service design perspective, the questions to ask are: What will make people want to comply with an agreement? What makes people think that the other parties involved will comply? 

Community justice services are more likely to deliver effective agreements in settings where there is some form of social control that increases the probability of their compliance. If the local policeman is willing to have a talk with an uncooperative person, that helps as well. Asking a judge from the formal system to assist with enforcement may also increase the likelihood that agreements are complied with and sustainable.   

Recent measures to limit the spread of COVID-19 remind us of what works to encourage compliance: the example set by people you identify with; monitoring by members of the community; reputation in the community and the threat of being excluded by it (ostracism); the threat of other sanctions; reciprocity (comply with your own obligations first, and the other party is more likely to comply); and rewards. All of these are known to incentivise compliance. 

Implementing evidence-based working

The task force next needs to ensure implementation. Guidelines have no effect unless the interventions they recommend are put into practice. The task force therefore must develop a strategy to implement evidence-based working. How can a wide range of justice practitioners – each working individually and sometimes in remote places – be stimulated to follow the recommendations?

Implementation science has become a field of study. Researchers in this emerging field investigate how evidence-based practices can be implemented. Building on experience from health care, mental health care, social work and other professional services, they have tested a range of options to stimulate evidence-based working. Many of these options are available in the context of justice services. If demand for high-quality justice services increases, so will the willingness of justice practitioners to work with an evidence-based approach. Legitimacy of the recommended practices, supported by legislation and formal acceptance, also helps. Learning collaboratives can be set up. Training programmes offering certificates and train-the-trainer programmes are effective as well.

The role of leading judges, academics, ombuds services and legal professionals is crucial: they can set an example of how best to resolve justice problems and emphasise the value of working based on evidence. Procurement processes of courts, ministries or legislative bodies can be designed in a way that gives preference to game-changing services that are evidence-based. The table below gives an overview of findings on implementing evidence-based working.

Conditions that support evidence-based practice
Assessment of the likelihood of conditions being met in settings where justice problems are resolved
Demand for best practices from users
No data available.
Involving stakeholders in planning and advisory boards
Can be achieved.
Legislation, mandates and formal adoption
Rule-following is more likely to be effective in the justice sector than in other sectors.
Long-term cost effectiveness of EBP
Integrated simplified processes are less costly than current court procedures. May require investing more resources in informal justice.
Preferential contracting
NGOs and donors are more likely to fund “evidence-based” practices than other projects.
NGOs and donors are more likely to fund “evidence-based” practices than other projects.
Most judges, informal justice providers, and frontline justice practitioners already believe in and actively promote mediated and peaceful resolutions. Codified best practices are likely to strengthen this belief and empower them.
Leadership behaviour
Many leading justices and ministers promote evidence-based working and greater reliance on informal justice providers.
Removing inconsistent organisational signals
Validated best practices can remove the ambiguity around mediation, informal justice and slow, complex formal justice by integrating the best elements of each.
Learning collaboratives
Can be organised.
Task shifting in low- and middle-income countries via best practices is effective in under-resourced settings (community health care workers are an example)
Empowering local justice providers and paralegals via best practices is likely to be effective.
Training (online)
Training in mediation techniques is available everywhere in the world. This is less true for adjudication practices.
Consultation and support by peers
No data.
Compatibility, complexity, trialability, observability, and relative advantage of EBP
EBP is often compatible with beliefs of justice practitioners and simplifies processes (compared to implementing complex legislation).
Modular approach (elements of best practices applied more broadly)
Some guideline recommendations are applicable across a variety of justice problem types (see building blocks).
An implementation strategy with multiple reinforcing interventions is more effective
A strategy that combines many of these interventions to implement evidence-based working may be costly.

Justice practitioners are more likely to adopt a new way of working if it is consistent with their values and beliefs. The more the recommended practices fit the workflow and the environment in which they work, the more they will be implemented. In a court setting that is supposed to apply a codified, adversarial procedure, evidence-based practice is less likely to be followed then in a setting where procedures are more informal and flexible. Financial incentives and other rewards for evidence-based working are also known to be effective.

Best practices are more likely to be applied by practitioners for whom applying standardised solutions is satisfying. Research on implementing evidence-based practice suggests that delegating standardised treatments to practitioners with fewer years of training is effective. These kinds of practitioners are more likely to adhere to and enjoy working according to standards. This is good news for communities looking to implement best practices with the help of paralegals or judicial facilitators. Academically trained practitioners, on the other hand, are sometimes more intrigued by exceptions to the rule. They like to use their skills to discover a solution for a rare or new problem. In a more optimal division of labour, these types of practitioners would focus on enriching and testing evidence-based justice guidelines. 

  • Implementation science is a discipline reported on by a journal that covers the latest insights (Biomed Central 2022). COVID-19 has provided many new learnings on this topic as well.
  • HiiL is currently developing a method to generate an effective implementation strategy in cooperation with organisations of justice practitioners.

Amsler, L.B.,  Martinez,J. and Smit, S. (2020). Dispute System Design: Preventing, Managing, and Resolving Conflict. Stanford University Press: Stanford, California.

Biomed Central (2022). Implementation Science. URL: https://implementationscience.biomedcentral.com/. Accessed on August 1, 2022.

Evidence-based Practice. Wikipedia, (2022). URL: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evidence-based_practice. Accessed on August 1, 2022.

Gleicher, L. (2010). Implementation Science in Criminal Justice: How Implementation

of Evidence-based Programs and Practices Affects Outcomes. Illinois Criminal Justice Information

HiiL, (n.d.-b). Building blocks. Justice Dashboard. URL:  https://dashboard.hiil.org/building-blocks/. Accessed on July 7, 2022.

HiiL, (n.d.-s). Solving and preventing. URL: https://dashboard.hiil.org/solving-and-preventing/. Accessed on August 1, 2022.

HiiL, (n.d.-t). Family justice. URL: https://dashboard.hiil.org/problems/family-justice/. Accessed on August 1, 2022.

HiiL, (n.d.-u). Land justice. URL:https://dashboard.hiil.org/problems/land-justice/. Accessed on August 1, 2022.

HiiL, (n.d.-v). Evidence-based justice: The guideline approach.

HiiL, (n.d.-w). Meeting. URL: https://dashboard.hiil.org/building-blocks/meeting/. Accessed on August 1, 2022.

Hodges,C. (2020). Delivering Dispute Resolution: A Holistic Review of Models in England and Wales.

Legal Design Summit, (n.d.). Legal Design Summit: Design thinking will change the practice of law. URL: http://www.legaldesignsummit.com/. Accessed on August 1, 2022.

OECD, (2019). Equal Access to Justice for Inclusive Growth: Putting

People at the Centre. OECD Publishing: Paris.

Oetzel, J. and Ting-Toomey,S (eds). (2013). The SAGE Handbook of Conflict Communication, Integrating Theory, Research, and Practice.

Rhee, H.V. (2021). Mandatory Mediation before Litigation in Civil and Commercial Matters: A European Perspective, Access to Justice in Eastern Europe, 4(12), pp. 7–24.

Service Design, (2022). Wikipedia. URL: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Service_design. Accessed on August 1, 2022.

Stanford Law School, (n.d.). The legal design lab. URL: https://law.stanford.edu/organizations/pages/legal-design-lab/#slsnav-our-mission. Accessed on August 1, 2022.

Stirman, S.W. et al, (2017). Bridging the Gap Between Research and Practice in Mental Health Service Settings: An Overview of Developments in Implementation Theory and Research, Behaviour Therapy, 47(6), pp. 920-93

4. Strategy 1: data on problems, impact and outcomes


4. Strategy 1:
data on problems,
impact and outcomes

Trend Report 2021 – Delivering Justice / 4. Strategy 1: data on problems, impact and outcomes

Effective people-centred justice critically depends on the availability of data on the effects on people of injustices and justice interventions (Chapman et al. 2021). What is the impact of an unsolved land problem, for example? Which interventions are implemented to allocate rights to use the land and do these result in a solution with outcomes that are acceptable to the parties? Data collected at the level of service delivery provide information on the quality of a particular service. Data collected and published at a national level make it possible to monitor the extent to which justice problems are prevented and resolved within a broader population. 

Measuring justice delivery: the benefits of further standardisation

A standardised approach to monitoring the quality of processes and outcomes is crucial for increasing the quality of justice interventions that together make up a resolution process. A standardised set of outcomes allows a series of interventions that add up to a treatment to be compared and evaluated systematically. Currently, evaluation studies for justice interventions each make use of their own methods. Ideally, practitioners and researchers would use similar methods to monitor the quality of the process and outcomes of, for example, personal injury cases.

When HiiL (n.d.-n) developed its measuring justice methodology, standard indicators of procedural justice existed: voice, neutrality, respect, and trust. Further standardisation is needed to measure the quality of justice outcomes across other dimensions, such as distributive justice, restorative justice, effectiveness and transparency.

Measuring the time, money and emotional costs needed to obtain resolution has proven to be difficult. People go through complicated processes to achieve justice and generally find it difficult to disentangle the costs of resolution from the impact of the problem. A better methodology to measure the burden of seeking justice is needed. A clear and consistent finding is that the emotional costs of this process should not be ignored. The existence of secondary victimisation as a concept – being victimised by the procedure after being victimised by a crime or accident – is a case in point.  International standards for monitoring problems, impact, outcomes and justice journeys are being developed. 

Regular national surveys: needed and difficult to fund

Countrywide data is needed. Ideally, data enables the task force and the providers of justice services to monitor progress towards people-centred justice. Widening justice gaps, or increases in the burden of injustice, can signal a need to redirect resources or to develop new treatments. 

Data on the economy are published on a quarterly or monthly basis. Crime statistics are typically published on a yearly basis. Data on justice problems, impact, vulnerable groups and outcomes achieved can be collected through standardised annual – or more frequent – surveys. For most sustainable development goals, time series data exist that show trends in performance for different countries. Our World in Data has become a core hub for this data (University of Oxford and Global Change Data Lab n.d.). Few time series related to justice are available (ibid). Data comparisons occur mostly between countries, while survey repetitions are few and far between (HiiL n.d.-o). 

When publishing data about justice problems in the population, the task force should reflect on actionability. What information should be shared with which audience? Who can take action on which elements of the data? How do they learn about the data? By conducting Justice Needs and Satisfaction Surveys in a wide range of countries over the years, HiiL has learned how data can be made more actionable (HiiL n.d.-p).

Survey data are often presented as percentages of populations (OECD and Open Society Foundation 2019). However, for a team looking to scale up a gamechanger and do capacity planning, for example, the number of potential users is more meaningful than a percentage. This can easily be estimated from survey data. Disaggregation is key. Data users often request that data be grouped by type of justice problem. Breakdowns of specific issues (i.e. divorce or child support) and specific complications (i.e. violence, loss of job, personal injury, relational problems) are also useful. In some cases, however, sample size may become a problem, because a survey will not always capture many people with one particular type of justice problem.

Data about impact and outcomes achieved must always be interpreted. User stories can be used to represent and illustrate the average justice journey. Do people need more information to resolve their justice problem? Is contacting the other party for meaningful negotiation their main bottleneck? Do they need more interpersonal respect? Was the amount of money they received through the resolution process unfair? Justice journey maps can answer these questions in a memorable and engaging way.

Survey results are much easier to interpret if they include benchmarks. International rankings such as those provided by the World Justice Project and comparisons to neighbouring countries can be helpful (World Justice Project n.d.). However, few countries consistently perform at a level high enough to be visible in national surveys. Most high-performing services operate at a small scale. Few countries have scaled a particular service to the entire target group. When selecting benchmarks, this needs to be taken into account.

Securing resources for annual surveys is a challenge. Victimisation surveys, once done in a standardised way across Europe, have been discontinued (University of Lausanne n.d). Legal needs surveys are administered irregularly. National statistics offices are now asked to include questions about justice in their large population surveys (Statistics South Africa 2019). 

Surveys can be carried out in person, in people’s homes, through panels organised by data collection companies, or through social media. Each method has pros and cons in relation to representativeness. Collecting social media data creates an opportunity to monitor trends in justice needs in real time. HiiL (n.d.-q; n.d.-r) experimented with this during the COVID-19 crisis by comparing social media trends with the observations of experts. Conversations on social media can be searched using keywords that are associated with particular justice problems. Trends in problems can thus be monitored during times of crisis, whereas in normal times the number of family problems or land problems is likely to be rather stable.

Triangulation with other data

Survey data need to be compared with other justice data. In most of the countries where HiiL has carried out a Justice and Needs Survey (JNS), the World Justice Project has collected basic access to justice data in the three largest cities (World Justice Project 2019). Courts sometimes collect user experience data. These forms of justice data can be used to enrich existing survey data. 

Access to justice reform programmes are executed by private, public or civil society organisations. Sharing performance and output data with the task force (and the public) in open formats should be part of implementation activities planned by the task force. Indicators for which there is no valid, reliable and regular data have little value.

A flaw of current survey methods is that they miss people who are in prison, are homeless, or who are hiding from the authorities. Some people may have problems that they are ashamed to talk about and deny. Depending on how questions are asked, surveys may miss the gravest injustices: people dying or disappearing. Survey companies contact people at home, through phone calls, through email or through social media. Reaching the populations excluded by these methods requires a more creative approach.

Data on the number of people in these hard-to-reach categories can be used as a proxy. Estimates of these numbers are available in many countries. Each individual who is incarcerated, homeless or unregistered is very likely to experience their situation as a justice problem. More reliable data on the problems these people have can be obtained by surveying segments of these populations.

Chapman, Peter et al., (2021). Grasping the Justice Gap: Opportunities and Challenges for People-Centered Justice Data. Washington, D.C.: World Justice Project; New York: Pathfinders for Peaceful, Just and Inclusive Societies; Paris: OECD.

HiiL, (n.d.-n). Justice Dashboard – Methodological Note. URL: https://dashboard.hiil.org/justice-dashboard-methodology/. Accessed on August 1, 2022.

HiiL, (n.d.-o). Country comparison page. URL: https://dashboard.hiil.org/country-comparison-page/. Accessed on August 1, 2022. 

HiiL, (n.d.-p). Projects. URL: https://www.hiil.org/projects/?_sft_service=service-1. Accessed on August 1, 2022. 

HiiL, (n.d.-q). Delivering justice in the Covid-19 crisis (web report). 

HiiL, (n.d.-r). Justice in the Covid-19 crisis: What people are saying on social media (web report)

OECD and Open Society Foundations (2019). Legal Needs Surveys and Access to Justice. Paris: OECD Publishing.

Statistics South Africa, (2019). Governance, public safety and justice delivery. Republic of South Africa. 

University of Oxford and Global Change Data Lab, (n.d.). Our World in Data.

University of Oxford and Global Change Data Lab, (n.d.). Promote just, peaceful and inclusive societies. Our World in Data. URL: https://sdg-tracker.org/peace-justice. Accessed on August 1, 2022. 

World Justice Project, (2019). Global insights on access to justice: Findings from the World Justice Project general population poll in 101 countries

World Justice Project, (n.d.). Research and data. URL:  https://worldjusticeproject.org/our-work/wjp-rule-law-index. Accessed on August 1, 2022. 

3. Agenda-setting: pressing problems, goals and gamechangers


3. Agenda-setting:
pressing problems, goals and gamechangers

Trend Report 2021 – Delivering Justice / 3. Agenda-setting: pressing problems, goals and gamechangers

In this chapter we explore how task forces can scope their work. They may be assigned a specific type of justice problem. They may also be expected to improve access to justice for all civil justice problems, for example, or to improve access to justice in general. Connected to this, they may select a particular type of justice service delivery model that they set out to implement in the country. 

Before zooming in on a direction for a solution, a task force may want to take the time to jointly internalise lessons learned. Justice innovation has often failed. We listed a number of common justice innovation traps, detailing the reasons why they should be avoided.

During this process, task force members develop a joint understanding of the level of reform they are going to pursue. Task forces can generally be expected to focus on renewing and eventually replacing current services, rather than upgrading them.  

Prioritising justice problems

Surveys of justice needs provide data on the most pressing justice problems. Task force members may want to connect to these needs by sharing personal stories of injustice. In the stakeholder dialogues that HiiL facilitates, lived experiences of people and data complement each other.

In this way, task force members are reminded that the most pressing justice problems are related to the satisfaction of core human needs. One of these core needs is to forge and maintain good family ties, even in times of hardship. Another is positive and empowering work that provides an adequate income. Access to land and housing are core needs as well and quality of life in communities requires good relationships with neighbours. Businesses need certainty on how they can invest and the environmental impact of activities needs to be minimised.

These core human needs are at stake when families separate, workers sent home, tenants evicted, and when neighbours become a source of noise, irritation or trash. People also want access to essential government services: health care, water, electricity and education. Debt relief and social benefits protect against poverty. People want to be safe from crime and violence, and to be protected against accidents. 

Task forces can set priorities in a rigorous way. Although quantifying impact is not straightforward, justice problems can be ranked according to frequency and severity. 

We recommend that task force members establish the resolution capacity needed based on the number and severity of problems that occur each year. The numbers in the graph found in Chapter 1 give an idea of the capacity needed by a country to prevent and resolve its most pressing justice problems. These estimates can be adjusted based on a country’s size. More precise numbers can be obtained from a legal needs survey or from administrative data (if all relevant problems of that type are recorded by a government agency). 

Setting goals, indicators and targets

Task forces typically select either a problem type to work on, or up to five of the most pressing problem types. They may then set goals. One goal may be to prevent domestic violence in a country, or to resolve land conflicts efficiently and effectively. Clear goals, expressed in outcomes for people, enable task forces to assess whether the programme implementation has been successful.

Some programmes have multiple goals and that can be confusing for implementers. Houses of justice in Colombia (see annex of this report) aim to increase the efficiency of existing services, to extend the reach of government in low-income neighbourhoods and rural areas, and to expand access to justice. These goals may need to be aligned and rephrased as outcomes for people, in accordance with emerging best practices. In HiiL programmes, we advise stakeholders to phrase objectives in a SMART way: specific, measurable, assignable, realistic and time-related (Doran 1981).

A goal directly linked to the challenge addressed in this report, for example, would be to develop the capabilities and methods to resolve or prevent the most pressing conflicts in an evidence-based and people-centred way. 

Measuring progress towards a goal requires indicators. Indicators for conflict resolution can be defined in several ways. The indicator for SDG 16.3 proposed by the UN is the “number of persons who experienced a dispute during the past two years who accessed a formal or informal dispute resolution mechanism, as a percentage of all those who experienced a dispute in the past two years, by type of mechanism.” This indicator focuses on accessibility to existing institutions. In the people-centred justice approach, outcomes for people are key, so resolution rates for problems can be a good indicator. A task force may also decide to take into account the fairness or effectiveness of solutions. One way to operationalise this is to quantify the problems reported in surveys as fairly resolved and add that to the number of problems that respondents consider on track towards a fair resolution, because some problems will still be in progress at the moment the results are measured.

In a programme developed for the Netherlands, HiiL proposed the following indicator: “the percentage of pressing justice problems resolved by a decision or agreement that is evaluated as fair by the disputants.” This information is available from the legal needs survey data that are collected every four years in the Netherlands. Selecting meaningful indicators is crucial. Mediation programmes are expected to have a high rate of settlement. This indicator is also increasingly used by courts. The rate of settlement needs to be combined, however, with an indicator that captures the quality of the resolution. 

Disposition times are another indicator commonly used by courts. The number of months it takes from filing a case to the date judgement is rendered can be easily monitored. In Russia, the justices of the peace must decide cases within two months and are reported to be mostly successful in doing so (Hendley 2017). Here again, another indicator may be needed to reflect whether the court’s intervention was helpful. Moreover, disposition time indicators do not include the time between the emergence of a problem and the filing of a case in court. People-centred surveys therefore tend to ask about the time between the emergence of a problem and its resolution. 

Recidivism is an indicator that should be used carefully. It measures whether someone who has committed a crime is again arrested or convicted. Data suggests that a second arrest is more likely to be for a minor offence. On the other hand, domestic violence may occur repeatedly before it is reported to the police. Moreover, recidivism measures seek prevention rather than resolution. They are unrelated to whether a victim has received restorative justice and only weakly related to whether community harmony is restored. 

Task forces should think twice before selecting indicators related to inputs. Ministries often set targets for the number of policemen in the street or for the number of judges, for example. Sometimes budgets for legal aid or for courts are presented as indicators in policy documents. Research has shown that increases in budgets are not necessarily associated with better outcomes for people.

Once indicators have been established, targets can be set. Fair resolution rates for high-impact problems currently hover around 30%. Alternative dispute resolution (ADR) programmes often report resolution rates of 50% or higher. Task force members can investigate these rates and assess whether increasing the resolution rate to – for instance – 55% in two years and to 70% in four years could be a target. For the Dutch programme, we proposed a target of 80% for resolving pressing conflicts by a decision or agreement considered as fair by the disputant. The indicator in 2019 stood at 32% . The percentage of problems resolved by the decision of an authority or by agreement between the parties is at 39% (5% decision, 34% agreement). In the past, it has been as high as 60%. When a decision or agreement is achieved, Dutch citizens tend to accept them as fair (73% for decisions, 84% for agreements). The 80% indicator is thus ambitious, but seems achievable via rigorous R&D and innovation efforts.

Selecting strategies

When setting targets, task force members will have strategies in mind to achieve them. A strategy is a route to meeting the goal, taking into account existing and foreseeable contexts, and the available capacity and resources. There may be more than one strategy towards a goal. Elements of strategies the task force might consider include improvements in treatment and service delivery through potentially game-changing models, or improvements to the enabling environment. 

Stakeholders may start by discussing who will provide new interventions and the treatment of justice problems; they may launch game-changing services, or be responsible for improvements. Early discussions may bring competing interests of agencies and service providers to the fore, which can hinder progress. At this crucial moment, the task force should remain focused on achieving the best possible outcomes for people. What are the best processes for resolving the problem(s) identified by the task force? What is the best model for service delivery? Dialogue and R&D about this should be undertaken independently from “who” delivers the treatments or is best capable of offering a game-changing service. Who will be responsible should be decided when assessing the available and needed capabilities. Ideally, this will be decided on a level playing field by an independent assessor

Strategies can be tested in relation to the goals and targets. What share of the population will the game-changing service reach? What increase in the resolution rate is expected once a new treatment has been implemented? What are the political push and pull factors that will negatively or positively impact the implementation of a particular improvement?

In projects HiiL has participated in, task forces have often opted for ADR or mediation as an element of the strategy used. This is a high-level vision that needs to be more concrete. Is ADR or mediation a way to resolve justice problems that need to be broadly applied by justice practitioners? If so, how can this be developed in an evidence-based way? Alternatively, are private sector arbitrators and mediators the preferred actors responsible for service delivery? If so, will they be able to reach 80% or more of the target group? 

Strengthening community justice services is another popular strategy for task forces. HiiL has worked with task forces focused on holistic approaches to family justice or on the justice needs of rural populations in post-conflict countries. Previous task forces that have addressed land disputes have looked at improving registration of land ownership. Committees tasked with redress for systemic injustices have developed criteria for victim compensation.    

The hypotheses embodied in the strategies need to be tested during the programming phase. Before a task force definitively selects a game-changing service, the stakeholders need to assess the feasibility of its implementation. Is the strategy likely to achieve the goal and move the indicator forward? Are there organisations ready to deliver it? Is the financial model sound?

  • HiiL has developed a method on developing pathways to meet specific justice goals that have been agreed upon by a group of committed justice leaders. These pathways are flexible and can be adapted to fit varying contexts and goals.

A mission approach example

In the flowchart below, a so-called mission map is sketched. It represents the five strategies outlined in Chapters 4 to 8 of this report. Data collection on problems and outcomes is combined with developing evidence-based treatments for the selected justice problems, which could be work conflicts, land use issues, domestic violence or the most common types of property crime. How to inform people, how to give them voice, how to involve them in designing solutions for the issues, and how to establish fair monetary contributions; at each step, the most effective interventions will be designed and continuously improved during implementation. Treatments will then need to be delivered in all situations  by using the most effective service delivery models, which could include community justice services, online-supported one-stop procedures, or user-friendly contracts. An enabling regulatory environment that supports continuous R&D will drive this process, fuelled by practitioners, an ecosystem of innovators, and more vocal users. This open environment, supported by a stronger evidence base on what works and more sustainable delivery models, will rapidly make providers of justice services and justice practitioners more effective. New services can emerge and self-helpers will become more confident. Outcomes that people can generally accept will be clarified and will be more frequently the endpoints of more effective treatments that will also deliver on the most prominent procedural justice needs. The improved service delivery models ensure that solutions will be accessible for everyone against reasonable, foreseeable costs. Instead of being overburdened and under-resourced, justice services become financially sustainable, serving far more people, achieving many more tangible results for their users and safeguarding new revenue streams.

A mission map such as the one above provides a theory of change for a programme. The outputs of the programme provide intermediate and more remote outcomes, ultimately leading to the measurable impact of resolved or prevented problems. Between each of the elements of the results chain, progress can be monitored and measured. Resources can be reallocated towards the nodes that are most promising. Bottlenecks can be targeted.   

Justice innovation traps: learning from experience

Learning from failure is crucial. HiiL has worked with a number of task forces over the past ten years. Hundreds of innovators have come to us with their ideas and initiatives. We have taken leaps of faith ourselves and have made every imaginable innovation mistake. The failures in justice innovation and court pilots are as instructive as are the successes. Here we share four points that we suggest future innovators avoid, as they can lead to costly delays and wasted energy. 

Piloting without sustainable revenues in sight:

Piloting without sustainable revenues in sight: A recurring mistake is to start pilots but postpone thinking about revenues and rewards. Doing justice equals doing good, so innovators often assume that somebody will pick up the bill. Early on, this may be the case, and the task force may be misled by this. Many NGOs love justice innovation and are happy to spend significant sums on a pilot that protects the rights of women or children, for example. Politicians love free mediation centres. Big law firms love pro bono programmes. Prosecutors love programmes that divert cases from courts and bring multi-disciplinary teams into the room to decide on the best treatments. Judges pilot a lot.

The question a task force should ask about any pilot is: is this financially sustainable as a scaled venture? If the pilot is akin to building a fancy school in Tanzania to fix the national education system, or flying doctors to remote places to improve community health services where local networks of providers already exist, it should be reconsidered.

People love to spend money on something tangible. Some innovators repeatedly secure grants and awards. But grants seldom work in the long-run. Effective justice services need a sustainable stream of revenues that exceed costs. This way, justice practitioners can be rewarded for their efforts, money can be saved, and the service can be scaled and continuously improved. There are no shortcuts. The consequences of this are discussed in Chapter 6.    

Fixing services that do not yet deliver fair outcomes:

Innovative lawyers often propose improvements to current processes; for example, tools to increase the number of productive hours at law firms, or referral sites that match lawyers and clients. Courts try hard to decrease their backlogs, refer cases to mediation, or spend millions to digitise their files and procedures. 

More of the same: what is the effect on resolution rates of these measures often considered by reformers?

The task force is likely to receive many suggestions to first upgrade current processes and services (UNODC and UNDP 2016; Law Commission of India; Republic of Kenya 2012). More digitisation, better access to court houses, improved scheduling of court hearings, or limits to the number of pages in documents filed – these can seem like effective upgrades. Many countries launch huge projects to update their codes of criminal and civil procedures. Judges and lawyers typically have many ideas on how to improve services provided by the courts. Expanding legal aid by lawyers has broad support. Alternatively, task force members may want to build on trends in investments in legal tech and in the allocation of court resources. In our 2020 trend report, Charging for Justice, we found that most investments go to startups that increase the efficiency of law firms or legal departments of major businesses. We also described the hundreds of millions of dollars spent on upgrading court IT. We estimated that only 2.5% of investments in legal tech go to services that target individual customers with legal needs.

It is tempting to believe that these proposed improvements will ultimately lead to better outcomes for people with justice problems. Task force members should be invited to test their assumptions by sketching how this trickle-down mechanism would work in practice. A task force should investigate whether such a mechanism is realistic, and whether working on these improvements is the best way to spend precious time and money. 

Will resolution rates be increased? Will people get substantially better outcomes? What impact will they have in a typical justice journey? The task force can use the criteria in the box below to assess the proposed upgrades.


Description of upgrade
Example: Improved enforcement of court judgments with monetary sanctions. This happens through (1) investing in a network of debt collectors, (2) improved ways to collect debts from employers and banks and (3) improved ways to sell debtor’s assets
Assessment criteria:
Example of assessment
What is the expected increase in resolution rates for the most pressing justice problems?
Four percent of pressing problems are decided by the courts. In 25% of cases involving a pressing family, land or crime problem, money payment is an essential component of resolution 70% -> 85% compliance = 0.3% Is thus the expected increase in resolution rates
Which people (with high impact justice problems) will benefit from this upgrade?
Mostly companies collecting debts and governments collecting fines. A small number of individuals who have personal injury cases or who collect child support or unpaid wages via a court procedure will also benefit.
How many pressing injustices will be prevented per year?
Evidence for court sanctions and effective enforcement preventing injustice is inconclusive.
What is the investment needed for this upgrade?
Programme of several millions of euros
What are the yearly costs of sustaining this upgrade?
The cost of maintaining the network minus the debt collection fees that can be collected from debtors and creditors.
What are possible negative side effects and how can they be avoided?
Increased debts for indebted persons, which can be avoided by better debt restructuring
How likely is the programme to be successful in implementing the proposed interventions?
Estimated 60%.
What are the best alternative ways to invest this amount in people-centred justice and allocate an annual budget for this?
Calculate the investment and annual costs. Compare with alternative ways of investing/spending this amount.

Another tool to let task force members reflect on upgrades is to conduct studies visualising current justice journeys, such as those conducted by RMIT University (2016). These visuals often reveal that people need to interact with a range of professionals and agencies to address their problem. A victim of an accident may have to deal with the police, medical experts, insurance companies, lawyers, social security agencies, the prosecution, a mediator and a court. Each of these actors has different bureaucratic procedures that come with many formalities. 

Mapping current justice journeys will help the task force and providers of future gamechangers strengthen the case for more fundamental renewal. It will also make it easier to identify the crucial elements of treatments. Many task forces indeed consider replacing existing services. Stakeholders they consult want to introduce alternative dispute resolution methods or renew the connection between formal and informal justice in their countries. They want to set up new types of specialised courts. They suggest diverting cases from the criminal justice system to new justice services. They recommend investing in legal information provision as an alternative to letting each person be informed by a lawyer. More often than not, task forces agree to replace existing services with alternatives or cautiously integrate newly-designed services into the existing justice system.  

Missing the submission problem:

Many legal innovators look at court procedures and assume they can do better. They design smart arbitration procedures, delivering decisions in two months. Others start offering online mediation services with highly skilled mediators. Many lawyers have mobilised their IT-savvy friends to design algorithms for settling monetary claims in a rational way. Judges, too, often reflect on possible improvements to their work processes – In pilot projects in the Netherlands and Belgium, judges have developed procedures that allow claimants to walk in with a problem and tell their story, upon which the judge will invite the other party for a dialogue. In most countries, some judges have tried to design more sophisticated procedures to deal with construction conflicts or personal injury. 

The first question that these legal innovators should be asked is: how will you ensure that the parties submit to your new process? The usual answer from innovators is that the parties will love the procedure and prefer it to the unpleasant experience of the procedure currently offered. 

This is not how things work. The graveyard of justice innovation houses many seemingly smart procedures that have been offered as a voluntary option. The stumbling block is that new ways of resolving disputes have to be sold to all parties to a conflict. A conflict is by definition a situation where people do not agree on the way forward. Most of the time, one party needs a solution more urgently than the other. Solutions that claim to benefit only one of the parties are unreliable because it is difficult to understand the nature of the problem by looking only at it from one side. 

Effective dispute systems are likely to be “mandatory.” From a people-centred perspective, this means that they contain incentives for both parties to participate, even if the process is difficult or the outcome may be discomforting. So strategies to develop game-changing services involving a third party start by fixing this submission problem, which may be quite a challenge.

Inability to remove legal hats and take other expertise onboard:

Many reform attempts suffer from an excessively or exclusively legal lens. Solutions are suggested in the form of new laws, additional information about laws or additional legal services. The reality of justice reform is that many other skills and resources are needed. These cannot be gathered from IT experts or managers alone – they need to be integrated into better resolution processes and service delivery models. To generate impact, justice innovators must consider a wide range of perspectives and be prepared to wear many hats: that of a creative designer, a policy maker, a user, and a donor or investor. The prospect of becoming a justice entrepreneur overnight by creating a solution to fix the justice system is exciting to many young lawyers and judges. But to make a real difference, innovators must be prepared to work with other stakeholders who may have conflicting interests. This is challenging but essential work. Working collaboratively rather than in silos can help innovators avoid introducing solutions that are certain to fail.

Selecting promising service delivery models: seven potential gamechangers

After deciding which pressing justice problems to select for implementing evidence-based practice, and testing early stage innovation suggestions, the task force will have to explore the possible service delivery models. Even when justice practitioners have the tools and methods to achieve high resolution rates in individual cases, these tools and methods will only improve the overall resolution rates in a country if they are available to every citizen, business and government agency. Currently, service delivery models are not scalable. Courts tend to be involved in around 5% of conflicts, and lawyers in perhaps 10-20% of cases. Government agencies have difficulties managing all conflicting interests regarding land use or delivering social services. Informal justice is irregularly provided in communities. Police and prosecution have limited capacity to deal with all kinds of of crime.

Based on lessons learnt, HiiL has developed three criteria to identify potentially game-changing service delivery models. A game changer must be a service delivery model that is: (1) able to deliver effective treatments consistently; (2) financially sustainable; and (3) scalable as a service (or as a combination of services) to 80, 90 or even 100% of the population experiencing the problem. 

Based on these criteria, we suggest that task forces consider seven promising types of service delivery models. Other models are likely to exist and should be explored as well if found to be promising, but the seven models sketched below have a clear potential and are being pursued by many justice entrepreneurs. 

Focusing on gamechangers will help innovators to design innovations that have the potential to deliver effective and sustainable justice services. The discussion will help policy makers to channel funds into viable innovations and formulate regulations in which these gamechangers can thrive.

Community justice services

Community justice services deliver solutions according to treatment guidelines effectively and to each person who needs them. Usually these services integrate formal and informal justice, and may take the form of: houses of justice; paralegals; justices of the peace; judicial facilitators; or community tribunals (HiiL n.d.-g).

Early stage examples of this game-changing service delivery model include justices of the peace, facilitadores judiciales and paralegal programmes in many countries,  Casas de Justicia in Columbia, Local Council Courts in Uganda, and Abunzis in Rwanda. Case studies on Casas de Justicia and Local Council Courts can be found in the annex of this report. Bataka Court in Uganda shows how a private player can bring standardisation and regular monitoring and evaluation to a method of addressing disputes that is often considered informal and ad-hoc.

The Sierra Leone Legal Aid Board is another example of how community justice services developed at scale - through the participation of the public sector and donor agencies - brought down the unit cost of delivering justice.  The tribal-state joint jurisdiction wellness courts in the United States effectively try to bridge the gap between formal and informal justice systems.

Community justice services exist in every type of country (low-, medium-, and high-income). They are more likely to exist in rural settings than in cities. Some are delivered by a panel of ordinary citizens, while others are overseen by individuals with authority in the community. Procedures are more likely to  be standardised in high-income countries and more likely to be free-form in low-income countries (HiiL 2022a). Informal community justice has been incorporated by governments into organisations of judicial facilitators or by private initiatives into paralegal networks. Houses of justice and justices of the peace belong to the same family: the former as an interdisciplinary service facilitating resolution and the latter as an adjudication service with a simplified procedure.

The origin of the community justice service may limit its potential to scale. Sometimes community justice services are related to traditional justice within a tribe. In Ethiopia, different informal justice services cover different states, depending on which tribe has the majority. Community justice services may also have roots in a religion or be connected to a local or central government. In Switzerland, each canton has a separate system of local dispute settlement services. In some countries in the Sahel region of Africa, the government’s geographic reach is limited, meaning services initiated by the government may not achieve national scale. If a local tribe has developed a specific way of settling disputes, this may not be acceptable to people from other tribes in the same region. In Colombia, houses of justice are seen as mechanisms for establishing government authority in remote areas.

Community justice services sometimes scale across borders. Facilitadores judiciales programmes exist in several South American countries, and paralegal models can be found in many African countries (HiiL 2022a).

HiiL’s (2022a) policy brief on Community Justice Services outlines the reasons why we expect this gamechanger category to grow and the barriers that community providers will have to overcome in order to achieve long-term sustainable growth. These include the following:

User-friendly contracts

Services that provide safe, certified and user-friendly contracts or other legal documents to people, ensuring fairness in families, at work, among neighbours, and between small businesses and their partners, as well as between governments and stakeholders in the use of land.

Creative Contracts in South Africa is a notable example of contract visualisation. While LegalZoom in the United States is an online information platform, it also provides easy to access contracts for everyday legal issues, especially those pertaining to SMEs. Platforms such as DIY Law in Nigeria, VakilSearch in India, and Avodocs in Ukraine are examples of successful document automation platforms that address the needs of small and medium enterprises.

Contracts and legal documents are needed to prevent conflicts or help manage them constructively. If user-friendly and effective, marriage, work and housing contracts can support fair and effective relationships between people. A major mining, energy or housing development project can only be successful if it is based on consent from the community, including groups that benefit from it and those who have to cope with adverse consequences.

User-friendly contracts can be implemented in a variety of settings. Well-balanced marriage contracts are more likely to be successful in settings where it is already customary or legally required to have a formal marital agreement. Laws on taxes may make it more (or less) likely that an employment or rental contract will be set in a formal document (HiiL n.d.-h). 

Visual contracts may be needed more in settings where a significant portion of the population is illiterate. That said, many people – regardless of their literacy – prefer visuals over texts. Along with visuals, user-friendly contracts also incorporate plain language and avoid unnecessary clauses when drafting contracts. So far, visual contracts have been used to draft employment contracts, informed consent forms for medical procedures, and non-disclosure agreements. A combination of visual, plain language and simplified contracts have been developed for procurement contracts, sales contracts by General Electric in the United States and not-for-profit organisations like World Commerce and Contracting in the United Kingdom (HiiL 2022b). The potential for innovation in contracting is vast, particularly for long-term relationships, where regular evaluation and updating can be included in the service delivery model (Fenwich, Compagnucci and Haapio 2022).

In the policy brief on user-friendly contracts, we identify the critical success factors for organisations that provide user-friendly contracts involved in scaling and improving the quality of service delivery (HiiL 2022b). These include the following:

One-Stop Shop Dispute Resolution

Tribunals or platforms offer one-stop dispute resolution services for employment, family or other justice problems by connecting advice, negotiation, facilitation and adjudication in a seamless way. These services tend to be offered on multi-channels, that include online, telephone, chat-based and complimenting in-person services. They need to be mandatory for the defendant, or have another solution for the submission problem, in order to be effective and scalable (HiiL n.d.-i).

Tribunals and online platforms offering one-stop dispute resolution are part of the next generation of civil justice. They build on a major trend towards supplying ADR and mediation services in connection with adjudication. Examples of One Stop Shop Dispute Resolution include Civil Resolution Tribunal in Canada, Uitelkaar.nl in the Netherlands and SAMA in India. Online dispute resolution modules are now often operated by individual courts in the United States and elsewhere, with functionalities ranging from online filing to online mediation or online negotiation support.

One-stop shop procedures that integrate information, negotiation, mediation and adjudication support are mostly found in high-income countries. Ombudsman procedures also may include facilitation and adjudication in the form of (binding) recommendations (Wikipedia 2022). These are most commonly found in higher-income countries and their task is usually limited to the relationship of citizens with government agencies. In some countries, this ombudsman model is also applied to consumer complaints. England and Australia have numerous ombuds services for a range of consumer products.

If the government in a particular country has already developed a one-stop shop procedure for a different purpose (for example, for licences needed by companies), a one-stop shop procedure in courts is probably more likely to be accepted. In Islamic countries, the Qadi culture – where mediation and adjudication are more integrated and procedures do not assume representation by a lawyer –  can be helpful as well.

In a policy brief,  we identify the critical success factors for scaling One-Stop Shop Dispute Resolution Mechanisms, focusing on how public-private partnerships, outcome monitoring and specialisation can strengthen the case for this gamechanger category (HiiL 2022c). The success factors also include some of the following: 

Problem-Solving Courts

Problem-solving practices or courts that bring defendants, victims, lawyers, public defenders, community leaders and prosecutors together to effectively address criminal behaviour. Key features of a problem-solving treatment include rehabilitation, interdisciplinary collaboration, and accountability that have to be delivered to many people (HiiL n.d.-j).

Problem-solving courts are a collaborative criminal justice innovation focused on individualised treatment and accountability. We examples of this gamechanger category in the United States in the form of Mental Health Courts  and Drug Courts. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa is another prominent example of bringing rehabilitation and restoration into focus in addressing criminal disputes. 

Problem solving criminal justice services operate with the understanding that punishment is a limited, and not always effective, response to harmful behaviour. Victims, perpetrators and the communities in which they live need more than a guilty verdict with a fine or a prison sentence. 

Problem-solving courts, dealing with common types of crime, have mostly been established in high-income countries such as the United States and Australia. Therapeutic justice and restorative practices on which problem-solving courts are based are used in different parts of the world, but the extent to which they are used largely depends on the approach of the judicial officers in power. In low-income countries, community justice services may deliver informal justice in a way that resembles the solutions delivered by the problem-solving courts.

Claiming services

Claiming services help people access vital public services quickly and at low cost. This delivery model is appropriate for social security benefits, proof of personal identity, healthcare benefits and similar outcomes. These services are supported online, combined with help desks or local in-person assistance (HiiL n.d.-k).

Online supported claiming has been finding traction in many countries. While many platforms focus on minor issues such as seeking compensation for defective consumer goods or compensation for flight delays, others focus on more serious issues. Examples include Haqdarshak in India, which provides access to government benefits to people living in rural areas through a combination of an online platform and local assistance, and JustFix.nyc in the United States which works on  tenant rights.

Such claiming platforms empower citizens who need vital (government) services. Claiming platforms help people to navigate bureaucratic procedures and thus make services more equally accessible. Their effectiveness depends on the maturity of the public administration and judiciary in a given country. Services that provide access to digital identity such as iVerify in Nigeria and Peleza in Kenya have proven to be particularly useful in lower-income countries. In the United States, Turbotax is a private service that helps people file their tax returns. In other countries, the government has set up user-friendly tax filing portals. The more public services are effectively delivered by the state, the less claiming platforms are needed. 

Claiming in high-income countries is now mostly supported online, matching high levels of access to the internet. In India, a sophisticated virtual platform — Haqdarshaq — is being taken door-to-door by local agents at the village level. Hybrid services are sometimes also needed for vulnerable groups in high-income countries (including migrants and illiterate or differently abled people). As part of these hybrid services, social workers and legal aid lawyers can deliver help offline. 

Prevention programmes

Prevention programmes or services that are supported by apps to ensure safety and security from violence, theft and fraud (HiiL n.d.-l).

Prevention programmes can take many different forms, from awareness campaigns, to programmes geared to legal empowerment, or to tools that can aid prevention or escalation of a legal issue. Yunga in Uganda and Ushahidi in Kenya are examples of programmes that help prevent legal disputes through the use of different technologies.

Prevention of theft and violence is becoming more widespread with the introduction of low-tech devices. WhatsApp groups and more sophisticated neighbourhood watch apps exist in different parts of the world. These programmes rely on neighbours coming together. Prevention programmes also rely on co-creating protection with the law enforcement agencies that will be alarmed or informed so they can take further action.

Online information and advice and follow-up services

People-centred online information and advice and follow-up services that help people solve justice problems in a step-by-step, fair and effective way that is consistent with their legal entitlements (HiiL n.d.-m).

Examples of this gamechanger category are many and are found in many countries. However, those that provide a clear value proposition to users beyond the provision of information are few. A2J Author in the United States and Mero Adhikar in Nepal can be considered good illustrations of step-by-step and clear follow-up services that can be integrated into online information platforms, aiding progress towards scale and sustainability.

Online information and advice services tend to be run by law firms, individuals, startups, non-profit organisations, or sometimes even the government as in the case of the website of Citizens Advice in the United Kingdom. These services are a helpful starting point in an individual’s justice journey. As we will see in later sections, however, web portals and mobile apps need substantial investment to become effective self-help guides that lead to higher rates of resolution. Successful examples of these are still rare, even in high-income countries. 

If evidence-based treatments and game-changing services are indeed needed, rigorous programming demands that the task force goes beyond incremental change. The following chapters show how a task force can lead strategically.

Fenwick, M., Corrales Compagnucci, M., & Haapio, H. (2022). Research Handbook on Contract Design. Edward Elgar Publishing Ltd.

Hendley, K. (2017). The Unsung Heroes of the Russian Judicial System: The-Justice-of-the- Peace Courts. The Journal of Eurasian Law, Duke University.

HiiL, (2020). Charging for justice: SDG 16.3 Trend Report 2020

HiiL, (2022a). Policy brief: Community justice services. HiiL. 

HiiL, (2022b). Policy brief: User-friendly Contracts. HiiL. 

HiiL, (2022c). Policy brief: One-stop shop dispute resolution. HiiL.

 HiiL, (n.d.-g). Community justice services. URL: https://dashboard.hiil.org/the-gamechangers/community-justice-services/. Accessed on July 31, 2022.

HiiL, (n.d.-h). User-friendly contracts. URL: https://dashboard.hiil.org/the-gamechangers/user-friendly-contracts-and-other-legal-documents/. Accessed on July 31, 2022. 

HiiL, (n.d.-i). Online information, advice and representation. URL: https://dashboard.hiil.org/the-gamechangers/online-information-advice-and-representation/. Accessed on July 31, 2022. 

HiiL, (n.d.-j). Problem-solving courts. URL: https://dashboard.hiil.org/problem-solving-courts-for-criminal-cases/. Accessed on July 31, 2022. 

HiiL, (n.d.-k). Claiming services helping people to access vital public services. URL: https://dashboard.hiil.org/claiming-services-helping-people-to-access-vital-public-services/. Accessed on July 31, 2022. 

HiiL, (n.d.-l). Prevention programmes or services. URL: https://dashboard.hiil.org/claiming-services-helping-people-to-access-vital-public-services/. Accessed on July 31, 2022. 

HiiL, (n.d.-m). Online information, advice and representation. URL: https://dashboard.hiil.org/the-gamechangers/online-information-advice-and-representation/. Accessed on July 21, 2022. 

Huge Domains, (n.d.). Legalfacile.com. URL: https://www.hugedomains.com/domain_profile.cfm?d=legalfacile.com. Accessed on July 27, 2022. 

Law Commission of India, (2017). Assessment of statutory frameworks of tribunals of India: Report number 272. Government of India. 

Ombudsman, (2022). Wikipedia. URL: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ombudsman. Accessed on August 1, 2022.

Republic of Kenya, (2012). Judiciary transformation framework

RMIT University, (2016). Pathways towards accountability: Mapping the journey of perpetrators of family violence- Phase 1

UNODC and UNDP, (2016). Global study on legal aid: Global report

2. Owning people-centred justice


2. Owning
people-centred justice

Trend Report 2021 – Delivering Justice / 2. Owning people-centred justice

The transition towards people-centred and evidence-based justice systems requires effective leadership. Why is that not emerging by itself and in response to the clear demand for better and more effective conflict resolution? In this chapter, we start with describing the lack of incentives and cooperation structures that require a task force to step in. We then describe how a task force can be formed and start to assume ownership. We detail how justice task forces are currently formed and resourced. We also argue that – given the scale of the challenge – a mission-oriented approach should be considered.

The impediments to taking ownership

Task  forces are needed and used in many places. They probably are brought into existence because current players are unlikely to be able to jointly create the necessary momentum. A number of impediments show up many times and task forces need to be aware of them.

The first impediment they will encounter is preference for the status quo. The justice sector is dominated by well-organised professionals. Bar associations, court leadership structures and ministries can easily be paralysed by stalemates between progressive groups and more cautious factions. The more conservative leaders in courts and law firms represent groups of  legally-trained professionals who fear losing control and their well-defined positions within the system as judge, attorney or prosecutor. These professionals have paid high fees for their training and invested many years in climbing the ladder in law firm partnerships or court hierarchies. They, and their representatives, have little incentives to invest in new ways of working. Improved conflict resolution also needs to be attractive for them.

In the worst cases, positions in the legal system are abused as a source of power. High-level judges and civil servants may have political loyalties that are stronger than their commitment to the rule of law and equal access to justice for all. Complicated legal procedures with many steps for serving documents or towards organising a court hearing are an opportunity for corruption.

Secondly, it is hard to locate ownership on the macro level. At present, legislatures, police, prosecution, providers of legal services, and courts act independently without any organisation taking ownership for effective resolution of conflicts or safeguarding fair relationships. Each supreme court, court of appeal, district court and legal aid boards has a narrowly defined task and role. Legislatures exist at local, provincial, national and supranational levels, without any organisation ensuring that their combined outputs are effective for people, safeguard the environment and allow businesses to flourish. In the United States or Nigeria, for example, each state has its own bar association and lawyers are likely to be organised at the level of major cities or counties. Such organisations or associations are mainly tasked with ensuring that lawyers act responsibly when they represent their clients. 

Other organisations exist primarily to correct the decisions of other justice sector organisations. Appeal courts second guess decisions of front line judges and their decisions can be corrected by the highest courts. Ombuds services correct government agencies. Disciplinary bodies correct lawyers. Prosecutors independently select the cases they receive from the police. Human rights committees and inspections provide another layer of checks and balances.

The third impediment is that the many independent and autonomous organisations in the legal sector lack the resources to implement evidence-based and people-centred strategies. Each organisation tends to be overburdened and focused on daily operations. Leadership is often busy with managing heated controversies on justice matters reported on by the media . Courts and other organisations in the sector have few strategists, small R&D units, and practically no budget for innovation. Strategic plans are generally focused on strengthening what they do, instead of reinventing how things can be done. 

Independence and lack of incentives are also problematic. Justice politicians and policy makers must respect the autonomy of justice sector organisations. They are generally hesitant to push courts, legal aid boards and other independent justice organisations to increase their overall performance. Economists have often pointed out that organisations in the justice sector have insufficient incentives to adapt and deliver the outcomes societies need, which explains why justice services often fail to meet demand. Being independent for good reasons, and often having a monopoly position, their accountability needs to be organised in a sophisticated way. A task force should understand the incentive structure of this sector and the ways that demand for justice meets supply.  

Demand for justice is much more diffuse than demand for water or better roads. People coping with conflict or crime do not know exactly the outcomes they want nor what is reasonable to expect. They need fair outcomes for injustices only a few times in their lives. This hardly makes them powerful consumers of justice services. 

When an individual needs a fair solution, the other party may push in a different direction. In order for justice to be achieved, the need for it must exist between people who are involved in an injustice or want to ensure their relationship will be fair and functional in the future. It may also happen in the shadow of an intervention by a  court or a government agency, who may have to intervene to impose a solution. The interaction between the parties originally involved in a conflict and third parties is complicated. Demand for justice and supply come together in a blur of emotions, conflict, debate, escalation and polarisation. Seen from the third party supplying justice services, demand for justice comes from two parties who often seem to go in opposite directions. People seeking access to justice are dependent on the third party and are likely to be in this situation for the first time. So they are unlikely to vocally demand effective treatment, good service and efficient solutions. 

The submission problem requires that the demand for fair solutions from two parties is channelled into a single request for an effective treatment delivered by an effective service model. On the supply side, the involvement of courts or other third parties with similar powers leads to some form of government monopoly. Access to people-centred justice therefore needs to be increased by strengthening the incentives of courts and other institutions to make use of society’s innovation potential.

Finally, coordination and cooperation requires trust between organisations in the justice sector. This is a fifth impediment. Created to provide checks and balances, and becoming more active when other organisations fail, justice sector organisations are likely to distrust their peers. Courts and legal aid organisations can sometimes be wary of a ministry of justice that controls their funding. Established justice institutions may distrust actors from the private sector, fearing their positions are threatened.

Bringing together a task force

Task forces are initiated in a variety of ways, inspired by the challenge and unaware of the full range of impediments that they will have to deal with. Depending on how the case for people-centred justice has been made, the initiators may come together as an independent initiative with private funding. Academics and leading judges are often involved in access to justice task forces. Bar associations may form groups to investigate innovation of legal services. NGOs may also play a role.

Most often, task forces are formed under the auspices of a Ministry of Justice, chief justice, attorney general, or chief prosecutor. In England and Wales, a government decision to digitalise the courts led to the establishment of a task force. We saw decisions to establish a task force being formalised as memoranda of understanding between a Ministry of Justice and an NGO or a UN organisation supplying the resources. In Sierra Leone, justice innovation has been linked to the national development strategy (Open Government Partnership and Republic of Sierra Leone, 2019). In countries where the rule of law is an international concern, a group of ambassadors or a UN organisation may suggest setting up a task force. 

These examples illustrate that task forces need some form of legitimacy and political space. Justice leaders need this to be able to participate in a private initiative. Ministers of Justice, chief justices, senior civil servants, or politicians specialising in justice matters are likely to be involved. They are the main players in the justice sector. Ministers can take initiatives that go beyond business as usual. Chief justices can reach out to leaders from the police, the prosecution, and the legal profession.

In most countries, a minister of justice has a coordinating role. He or she represents the justice sector in a government. Depending on the constitutional arrangements, a minister of justice may also be in charge of the budgeting processes. The justice department can provide resources for a task force. Often the ministry of justice will have a role in implementing programmes which will require new legislation that the ministry can initiate. Task forces, therefore, tend to seek cooperation with ministers or chief justices, and need to be aware of how these officials view the need for reform.

In our work, we have found that the composition of a task force needs careful consideration. Leaders from the judiciary, the prosecution and the ministry will probably participate and will need the informal backing of top-level executives in their organisations. Academics from various disciplines can contribute by strengthening the evidence-based approach that is needed. Ideally, participating academics will also have experience with implementation. Providers of innovative legal services need to be represented as well. Legal scholars often provide legitimacy and represent the current norms that can inspire but which also need to be challenged. Change agents with experience in transitions are needed. Practising lawyers, judges, or forensic therapists are aware of how services actually work – and how they create bottlenecks. Civil servants know about budgeting and the processes of changing rules. 

Task forces should ensure that the voices of citizens are heard. This can be achieved by including experienced users as members or by consulting them regularly in focus groups. User data should be readily available so that it can inform dialogue at critical junctions. Civil society leaders, who give voice to the demand for justice, can help sustain a task force’s momentum (see Chapter 9 ‘Strengthening the movement’). Founders of justice startups can inspire the group and bring  a “can do” entrepreneurial mentality, as well as expertise in standardising, scaling, and developing sustainable financial models. 

All these views must be integrated through facilitation, including step-by-step processes to guide the task force through different stages of programming. In advanced task forces, this is achieved by a team of facilitators experienced in the dynamics of the legal sector and in addressing major challenges in the delivery of public goods. Rather than having one chairperson overseeing the process, task forces today often have an informal group of co-leaders, with complementary tasks and skills, assisted by a team of facilitators. 

Navigating a special public sector

A task force operates in a justice ecosystem that requires skilful navigation. In Chapter 8, we describe in detail how the impediments to the transition towards evidence-based and people-centred justice can be dealt with. But the task force will need to deal with these impediments at an early stage. 

They may want to explore how ownership works, considering how the responsibility for fair solutions is organised as a series of checks and balances, rather than an integrated approach to delivering justice outcomes to people and society. It may help them to see how ownership for justice delivery is distributed between legislative bodies, courts, prosecution, police and the organised legal profession. Each of these institutions is bound by law, but acts independently. They are accountable to citizens in general via laws that prescribe what people are allowed to do and how institutions should make decisions.

Legal training and working on justice also results in a specific culture that a task force needs to navigate. The justice sector comprises vocal practitioners advocating solutions. Managers with legal training are accustomed to making decisions by carefully deliberating two alternatives. Intuitive ways of dealing with conflict, inspired by adversarial procedures, can poison the relationships between leaders in the sector. In some countries where HiiL works, we have seen vocal groups of legal professionals cultivate a hostile relationship with ministers or court leaders. Lawyers go on strike. Leaders who take up people-centred justice programming will need a unique set of skills, resources and resilience to navigate these challenges.

Justice leaders work within a complicated operational structure that needs to be managed, led and resourced. Public institutions (courts, prosecution, police) and private organisations (providers of legal services, informal justice providers) each have a role. The task force may want to explore how the sector resembles the health or education sector in that a multidisciplinary, cross-sectoral, public-private, inter-agency collaboration is needed to make progress.

The justice sector is also a special type of public service and that will be a next issue to consider. Justice is not delivered to one patient or student, but created between people. Practitioners facilitate this and may have to intervene to impose a solution. Government is expected to provide the third party view, but is also a litigant in many cases. Demand for and supply of justice must work together in an environment of strong emotions, conflict and debate that is normally absent from schools and hospitals. Communication is often disturbed by accusations, defensiveness or denial. Media make money by competing for the attention of viewers with stories on crime and conflict.

During the convening stage, the commitment of task force members will be tested and further developed. In the initial stakeholder dialogue in HiiL’s programmes, the task force members collectively work on developing personal relationships. Typically, a task force engages with data, revisits the case for setting up the group and develops a shared understanding of the urgency of the issues to be resolved. Each task force member learns about the motivations of the others and the work each member is already doing to achieve the task force’s mission. The task force members also learn about the ways their work will be facilitated during the months ahead. 

Envisioning equal access for all

Early on, the task force may want to exchange visions for the future. Having assessed the urgency of the problem being addressed, the members of the task force are now challenged to explore a way forward. If equal access to justice for all in personal injury cases is what they are looking for, how can this be achieved? What does justice for all for everyday crime in their country look like? Will all people ideally be served by the police, prosecutors, courts and lawyers? Outlining a typical justice journey through a pressing justice problem is a good starting point. This can provide a step-by-step overview of existing systems and the bottlenecks where innovative interventions may be most needed.Task force members are likely to have alternatives in mind. What are the outcomes that people with justice problems actually need? Which promising services can be scaled and how can they be brought into the legal system?

For justice leaders, making financial ends meet is a continuous challenge and it is helpful to bring in this element in the conversation early on. Instead of calling on outsiders to provide funding, task force members can take ownership of this challenge by thinking about possible revenue streams and rewards. If they do the math, they will probably see that free justice services for all are unlikely to be funded by taxpayers, even if politicians would support this as a matter of principle. Or can the new services they foresee be more cost effective, which will imply substantial increases in productivity and substantial cost savings? 

Even at this early stage of their work, task force members may want to explore sustainable funding models. These should include what people already pay for justice services on the market and what they pay as contributions for government services. How are other public services such as health care, education, water, electricity and internet funded – and what can be learned from these examples?

Task force members are likely to come in with different perceptions on what is most urgent. Some members will have a very practical attitude, zooming in immediately on the simplified procedures that are needed or the network of justices of the peace that needs to be established. Other task force members frustrated by the current way of working in their country are likely to find comfort in the knowledge that delivering people-centred justice is a common challenge internationally, and not a personal failing of individual leaders in their country. Being part of an international SDG 16 movement in which a consensus is emerging has proven to be stimulating for task forces in countries with poor reputations for rule of law.

Assuming many members of the task force are trained in law, they can also be invited to reflect on the rules that govern justice services. Which rules are helpful and essential? Which are barriers, difficult to observe or unimportant? A task force should think ahead. When new types of conflict resolution processes and new service delivery models are needed, a clear track for developing, testing and large scale implementation will be needed. What kind of regulation will be needed to support this? 

A mission approach to programming and execution

The task force has to reflect on programming methods that may be assumed by incoming task force members. In the justice sector, we often see that redesign is allocated to committees, which typically produce a report with recommendations that have to be implemented via legislation or in existing organisations. Committee reports, however, are unlikely to be implemented. We find it essential that experienced implementers participate in the design of the programme. This ensures that the programme is designed for execution. But how can the task force ensure that this happens?

When looking for a programming method, the task force may want to be guided by the mission-oriented approach to tackling grand societal challenges. The task force, looking at how it made the case for the transition to people-centred and evidence-based working in the justice sector, may decide that it is working on a challenge at that level. Mariana Mazzucato, who is the leading thinker of this approach, suggests we need to think bigger and mobilise our resources in a way that is as bold and inspirational as the moon landing – this time for the most ‘wicked’ social problems of our time (Mazzucato 2021). Her research shows that governments played an indispensable role in major technological breakthroughs in the 20th century and that they are best placed to facilitate such breakthroughs (Mazzucato 2013). The box below summarises advice on how a task force might operationalise the mission-oriented way of working.

The mission-oriented approach for programming

Mariana Mazzucato identified five criteria for selecting missions. They should: 

Azoulay and colleagues (2019) describe how work on missions can be managed. Flexible and adaptive portfolio management is recommended. This can benefit from lessons provided by other innovation and funding agencies across the world, such as Yozma in Israel, Sitra in Finland, the Government Digital Service in the United Kingdom, or organisations like DARPA or ARPA-E in the United States. The defining characteristics of the DARPA model are:

Azoulay and colleagues (2019) recommend that the ARPA model works best when a technical field is relatively unexplored and has pathways with great potential, but also some friction. This seems to be a good description of the R&D challenge in the justice sector. They also recommend:

Harrell’s (2020) ‘A Civic Technologist’s Practice Guide’ has many additional recommendations, including how the task force work can be promoted:

The mission approach, summarised in the box above is based on setting concrete goals and targets. It is about R&D efforts that are ambitious and realistic. It is appropriate where work should be done between disciplines, between silos and between actors. In the following chapter, we will suggest how this approach can be applied to the challenges we are facing.

Resourcing a people-centred justice programme

A task force needs adequate resources. Rigorous programme design requires a variety of methods and skills. Assuming the task force members are leaders with other jobs to execute, they will need support from an interdisciplinary team experienced in justice sector reform.  

An evidence-based approach to justice delivery can be attractive for national planners. An initial business case – quantifying programming costs and potential benefits as mentioned in Chapter 1 – will show the programme’s value. It will also indicate how the programme can be implemented. Budgets can become available through coalition agreements. Contributions from international donors (in lower-income countries) are more likely when a systematic approach to reform is taken.

Ministries, donors and social impact investors require accountability. They look for clear and consistently monitored outputs and outcomes. When the case for systematic programming is made, it should come with indicators to measure progress and impact.

Costing the work of task forces realistically is a next step. A typical budget may include the items described below. The programming phase, where the framework of the programme is designed, can last between 12 and 24 months. It typically leads to a number of outputs and one or more plans for each of the strategic R&D and innovation interventions. These plans need to be funded in a sustainable way and tested during the programme activities. They typically relate to implementing evidence-based working, investing in, and scaling one or more game-changing service delivery models and to the enabling environment. Depending on the scale of the ambition, a plan for building a broad movement can also be included.

Budgeting a people-centred justice programme:
Items for a systematic approach

Phase 1: Initiating

Phase 2: Owning and scoping

Phase 3: Programming strategic interventions

Phase 4: Implementation by stakeholders supported by the task force

Harrell, C. (2020). A Civic Technologist’s Practice Guide.

Mazzucato, M. (2013).The Entrepreneurial State: debunking public vs. private sector myths, 2013. Public Affairs.

Mazzucato, M. (2019). Governing missions in the EU, 2019: Independent expert report. European Commission.  

Mazzucato, M. (2021). Mission Economy, A moonshot guide to changing capitalism. Harper Collins. 

Muller, S. (2020). An emerging ministers of justice movement. Global dashboard- Blog covering international affairs and global risks.

Open Government Partnership and Republic of Sierra Leone, (2019). Third Action Plan: Sierra Leone Action Plan 2019-2021

Pierre Azoulay et al. (2019). Funding Breakthrough Research: Promises and Challenges of the “ARPA Model”, NBER/Innovation Policy and the Economy.

1. Making the case for people-centred justice


1. Making the case
for people-centred justice

Trend Report 2021 – Delivering Justice / 1. Making the case for people-centred justice

Reforming justice: moving up the policy agenda

Conflicts are an inevitable part of life. Preventing disputes, and managing them carefully, is the daily business of courts, government agencies, and political institutions. Professionals in conflict resolution are helping people who are mired in disputes about land, family conflicts, or work or environmental issues. The civil justice system provides formal procedures. Judges, lawyers, social workers, and other “justice practitioners” often resort to informal negotiation or mediation as well. 

Government officials need to make decisions on how best to use land or to allocate access to public services. They have to do this following the rules of administrative procedure, which is the formal framework for reconciling the needs of the people, the natural resources available on the planet, and the pursuit of profit by enterprises on the basis of a nation’s laws. Within this framework, or as an alternative approach, they use many types of informal processes for participation and achieving consensus (Bernstein and Rodriguez 2022). 

In case of violence, theft or fraud, police and prosecutors apply the rules of criminal procedure. This is the primary way to protect victims, sanction perpetrators, and restore harmony in the community. Like their colleagues in government agencies and the practice of civil justice, these justice practitioners often turn to informal or alternative ways to enable people to cope with the consequences of crime. 

Often, justice practitioners struggle to support people who seek access to justice. Formal procedures tend to be slow and bureaucratic. Informal processes are not well organised. What happens during negotiations in the corridors of power is not transparent. Government agencies and business owners complain about tedious administrative procedures which makes it hard for them to reconcile environmental challenges and economic progress. All pillars of the justice system tend to be overburdened. Only a minority of victims receive adequate intervention from criminal justice systems. Those causing harm are seldom treated in the ways that are most likely to prevent future crime or help victims to recover. Too often, only those with power, money, or extreme determination can handle the complexity of justice procedures, thereby opening the doors to inequality and corruption. 

Survey data on justice needs are widely available and can support the potential for a rigorous R&D effort to improve justice systems. The World Justice Project, HiiL, and other research groups have collected data on justice problems, impact, and justice journeys in more than 100 countries (World Justice Project n.d.-b). The general trend is that few people rely on formal justice institutions when they have to cope with conflicts or crimes. The justice gap has now been quantified and is considerable in almost every major country surveyed (World Justice Project 2019). The unmet demand for justice is striking.

In sum, justice systems need to do a better job of serving their people and justice practitioners need better tools to solve conflicts. Leaders across the world acknowledge the need to upgrade legal systems. During the 2010s, the World Bank financed justice sector reforms through multi-million dollar loan agreements in Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Morocco and Peru, to name just a few (World Bank n.d.). The European Commission and United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) have supported reforms in civil and criminal justice (European Commission n.d.; UNDP n.d.). The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) coordinated efforts to improve standards in criminal justice (UNODC 2016). UN Habitat developed methods to prevent and resolve problems related to land and housing (UN Habitat n.d.; UN Habitat 1999).

In Canada and elsewhere, chief justices support task forces and think tanks on access to justice (The Canadian Bar Association 2021). Many countries in Africa and Latin America have justice sector development plans (Republic of Uganda n.d.; Republic of Kenya n.d.; Government of Brazil 2021). Ministers of justice in Argentina, France, Portugal, and the UAE have established groups in their justice ministries to lead innovation efforts, each of which has introduced ambitious new justice services.

Political agendas vary but many reform efforts go in similar directions. Reforms span the globe and have been initiated under a broad variety of democratic and autocratic regimes. Canada is leading online-supported adjudication (HiiL 2022c). Argentina and France have invested in houses of justice (Government of Argentina n.d.; French Republic n.d.). The Supreme People’s Court organised efforts to scale up and professionalise the Chinese court system, encouraging mediation as well as rule-based adjudication. Russia set up a countrywide system of informal local courts tasked to resolve disputes (Hendley 2017). In January 2017, outgoing US President Barack Obama published an article in Harvard Law Journal outlining a strategy for criminal justice reform. In a rare instance of bipartisan cooperation in the United States, his successor Donald Trump signed the First Step Act, which aims to improve the rehabilitation of offenders and the protection of victims (Wikipedia 2022). Governments in Italy, Germany, and the Netherlands promise justice system reforms in coalition agreements. Political parties may have different priorities – being tough on crime; providing access to justice for the disadvantaged; securing economic growth based on private initiative; preserving the environment; or serving the police and the legal profession as powerful constituencies – but even so, improvements can be agreed upon.

Each of the 47 member countries of the Council of Europe have committees and groups that implement reforms in the judiciary, the prosecution, and the legal aid system. The Organisation of American States and USAID have supported justice reform initiatives throughout Latin America (Organisation of American States n.d.). To address large-scale injustices, countries have set up truth and reconciliation commissions or special tribunals that are tasked with finding solutions for injustices and preventing them from recurring.

Some examples of task forces with ambitious strategies are Michigan Justice for All Commission, Supreme People’s Court China, Systems of Civil Justice Task Force of Canada, Access to Justice Task Force of Australia, the Justice Reform Commission of Peru. Find more examples of task forces from across the globe that work on access to justice on the National Centre for State Courts website. It includes the Access to Justice Committee of the Law Council of Australia, Access to Justice Asia, Access to Justice in China, United Nations Development Project Tajikistan, and the Japan Federation of Bar Associations. aims to make the civil justice system more accessible, effective and sustainable by supporting citizen-centred initiatives.

People-centred and evidence-based reform

Not all reform efforts have been successful, however. Several have been temporary and many law reform commissions have lost their momentum. Programmes have been criticised for spending too much on legislation, on the construction of courthouses, or on police training. Reform agendas contain long lists of findings and recommendations, but are not always specific on how these can be prioritised or implemented. Thousands of local pilot programmes fail to scale. Task force leadership is often dominated by people trained as lawyers, which is reflected in reports calling for changes in legislation and budget increases for legal institutions.

Upgrading justice systems is increasingly seen as a shared challenge. Peaceful and inclusive societies, with access to justice for all and effective, accountable and inclusive institutions, are a UN Sustainable Development Goal. Reports by the European Commission for the Efficiency of Justice (CEPEJ) – the Council of Europe organisation that collects justice system data – show considerable differences in the way justice systems are organised, funded and scaled (CEPEJ 2020). The European Union offers the following best practices on justice reform and cooperation with partner countries.

EU best practices on justice reform

The emerging consensus is that reform should be people-centred and evidence-based. The OECD, the Open Government Partnership, Pathfinders for Justice, The Elders, the European Union, and USAID are among those leading the efforts to develop people-centred justice approaches (OECD 2021; Open Government Partnership 2019; The Elders, n.d.; European Commission n.d.; USAID 2022). They are supported by an increasing number of country governments forming the Justice Action Coalition (Justice Action Coalition 2022). Another main player is the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA), the intergovernmental organisation that works on developing inclusive and accountable institutions (Government of Canada 2021). IDLO and UNDP, the leading international legal development cooperation organisations, have developed people-centred rule of law strategies, informed by specialists in law and development from ODI and IDRC (IDLO 2020; UNDP 2021; Manuel and Manuel 2021; IDRC 2022).

The policy briefs and strategies produced by these experts have a number of common elements. People-centred legal and justice services should be based on and respond to an empirical understanding of the legal needs and legal capabilities of those who require or seek assistance (OECD 2021). People-centred justice should be available across the justice chain and provided in a range of formats, programmes, and services types. Prevention of injustice, proactivity, and timeliness are key in this paradigm. The system should provide seamless referrals and integrated services through collaboration between legal, justice, and other service providers. People should be able to access all the services they need to solve the legal and related non-legal aspects of their problems. Regardless of the entry point for assistance, they should receive appropriate treatment for their problem. People-centred justice services should be continually improved upon through evaluation, evidence-based learning, and the development and sharing of best practices. 

A new paradigm requiring a major transition

This approach is different from how legal systems have traditionally been reformed. Until now, even the most effective task forces have relied on piecemeal reforms that current legal institutions allow for. At present, politicians must propose laws and procedures, hoping they will be accepted by legislative bodies and that justice practitioners will implement them in individual cases. Judges can decide cases by applying, and sometimes tweaking, the law in order to make it more responsive. Reformers can hope that lawyers turn to processes that are more likely to lead to fair and sustainable settlements. They can advocate that litigation becomes more focused on effective solutions for conflicts and less costly. People may become more effective in helping themselves or their fellow citizens in a variety of informal justice processes that are sometimes half-formalised, such as mediation or ombuds procedures. Local leaders experiment with participatory democracy or with new forms of decision-making on major projects in their community. NGOs distribute information on people’s rights and offer to help victims. 

Progress in governance and effective conflict resolution systems is thus dependent on individuals trying to introduce change. They do so in a setting of broad constitutional checks and balances, but in which there is no mechanism to ensure systematic progress towards better outcomes. Institutional accountability as described by the EU in its policy document is also lacking. 

In this report, we explore the answer to this much bigger reform challenge. We explore how a next generation of task forces could launch and manage the systematic R&D and innovation needed to implement people-centred justice in a country based on the recommendations of the many policy briefs and strategies that are building the paradigm. For instance, reform agendas need to have both state-of-the-art ways to measure outputs, outcomes and impact of the most pressing justice problems and a results-based approach with clear objectives. Neither is commonly found in the justice sector. Research and an evidence-based working approach when interacting with parties in a justice problem should be combined with systematic improvements in the delivery and scaling of justice services. The service delivery approach requires coordination between broad national programmes and local institutions. Traditional justice mechanisms can work alongside formal courts. Political dialogue – in which high-level participants take ownership of and accountability for justice institutions –  in combination with regulatory and financial regimes that stimulate and support continuous innovation are also needed.

Making the case for systematic programming: speaking to the heart

Systematic programming for people-centred justice starts with making the case. Although the reasons for setting up a task force may be evident, a strong initial proposal is needed to ensure it receives adequate resources. The following suggestions may help to inform this proposal.

Justice task forces are often established in situations of broadly shared indignation. A particular group is victimised or a high profile crime has been committed. A task force is formed to rectify the injustice. Justice speaks to hearts and minds. Both can be addressed. Injustice is easy to spot, emotionally. Anger has been called the emotion of injustice. Compassion and outrage are quickly triggered. 

Justice, and the ways to achieve it, are emotionally more complex than injustice. Justice comes from being heard, feeling respected, obtaining remedies, and sharing resources fairly (Sabbagh and Schmitt 2016). Assuming responsibility for one’s role in an injustice, forgiving someone who caused harm, preventing future harm or exacting retribution, these are moral choices that can be confusing (Carlsmith and Robinson 2002). Most police fiction and media reports have the shape of a whodunit, thereby simplifying or overlooking this complexity. The storyline of justice ends when the good guys find out what happened and make an arrest. This is when the complex task of delivering justice really begins. Detectives don’t work on rehabilitation. You don’t see them working with youth in poor neighbourhoods to prevent crimes. 

A task force will therefore often be initiated in a setting where the media call for retribution. We think a task force will be better positioned if it can connect to the feelings of people involved in everyday disputes and to society’s collective awareness that at least a degree of social harmony must be restored. In a world full of discord and polarisation, the need to agree on a peaceful way forward can be emphasised. 

A task force may also want to connect to concrete situations that people are familiar with: How would the country look if all land conflicts were resolved quickly and fairly? What would the effect on work life be if all workers had a sound and balanced contract, and were able to access their benefits via a user-friendly platform? How would people feel if conflicts that inevitably arise were resolved by a one-stop court procedure, leading to settlement agreements tailored to individual needs? What if domestic violence was prevented and treated in an evidence-based way, delivering the outcomes women need in order to feel safe? 

In our projects, we encounter many reasons to consider people-centred justice programming. Change-makers and their funders mention the following qualitative reasons to support justice programmes: less polarisation; reduced need for migration; human rights protection; protection of the vulnerable; prevention of civil unrest; crime prevention through improved conflict resolution; and greater government accountability for public services. 

Quantifying the burden of injustice and how justice contributes to GDP

The rational, quantitative business case for people-centred justice can be built on data that are now widely available. Quantifying the annual burden of particular types of justice problems can help make the case for investment. This can be calculated in a similar way as the burden of disease. The number of new problems per year in a country can be derived from legal needs surveys. Impact can be quantified using data on self-reported severity, consequences (for example, violence, loss of income, stress-related illness), and money and time spent on resolution. The cost of state resources used to address these justice problems should be factored in as well.

This is how such a calculation might look. In a typical city or state with a population of 8 million, 1 million people on average will experience a pressing justice problem annually. Of these, 500,000 problems will have a major negative impact. If the average negative impact of a land problem in an African country of 8 million people is estimated to be $1000, and the resolution rate is 30%, the burden of land injustice in this country can be quantified at approximately $90 million per year (see the numbers in the infographic, based on HiiL 2018).

Quantifying the potential contribution of justice to GDP is more complicated, but possible. Resolving a land justice problem may increase the productivity of a farmer who is able to cultivate formerly disputed land. Solutions that address the consequences of deadly crimes can contribute to the recovery of survivors and the reintegration of perpetrators into the economy. When people are relieved of an existential threat to their livelihood and can manage their relationships through more effective contracts, their contribution to the economy can grow. Justice also sits well with the movement towards broader concepts than those focussed on GDP; greater fairness will improve well-being.

The growing body of literature has revealed a variety of ways in which programmes have quantified the size of the social and economic benefits of justice system interventions (Moore and Farrow 2019; Weston 2022).  For instance, the Dutch Ministry of Justice and HiiL asked Ecorys, an economic advisory agency, to calculate the economic and social benefits of achieving 80% resolution rates to justice problems in the Netherlands. We defined this as 80% of justice problems being resolved either by agreement or by a decision in a way viewed as sufficiently fair by the person who experienced the problem. The calculation  was based on an extrapolation from three justice problems: separation, work conflict, and access to social security/services. 

Ecorys estimated a 0.15% contribution to GDP of increasing the resolution rate to 80% (Ecorys 2021). This excludes export opportunities for justice services and improvements in the national investment climate through better access to justice. $1 successfully invested is projected to lead to $4 saved on transaction costs (the resources spent on attempting resolution) and a $14 gain in productivity (the increased productivity if people involved can devote their attention to other activities then trying to cope with the impact of conflict). On top of this contribution to GDP in the narrow economic sense, the calculation yielded contributions to well-being: a $51 gain in quality of life and $10 saved in public services costs (including the costs of health care). 

There are also the economic and environmental gains of faster, more effective procedures to resolve conflicts regarding allocation of land to various types of use. The interests of current populations, of future housing needs, transportation requirements, water management, nature, and entrepreneurial activities need to be reconciled. In theory, the costs and benefits of projects can be assessed, with overall beneficial projects approved, provided there are adequate measures protecting the interests at risk, or that there are adequate compensatory measures for those interests that cannot be fully protected. In practice, this decision making is often slow and can be frustrated by litigation tactics of a small group. People who are affected face considerable bureaucratic barriers when they try to be heard. Comparative administrative law, which should lead to the systematic assessment of what works best when organising these processes, is at an early stage of describing different systems (Pünder 2013; Asimow 2015). Initial exploratory research should be followed by systematic research and development, and broad implementation of innovations.

The calculations above do not provide final answers. The economic modelling of the benefits of conflict resolution and accessible justice is at an early stage. It can be improved with better data collection and continued testing of assumptions. The negative effects of unresolved justice problems have to be quantified in more detail,  allowing for individual coping strategies. Some people move on from their problems, while others feel resentment and report more significant consequences; for example, violence, damage to relationships, loss of time and money, stress, and other health issues.

Failing to create credible pathways to peaceful, inclusive societies is a high-risk gamble

When justice institutions fail to give people a voice and provide remedies, this contributes to feelings of frustration and neglect among communities. Governments around the world rightly see this as a threat to stability. Ministries of justice experience this as a variety of challenges that became apparent during a ministerial meeting in 2020. 

A ministerial meeting on people-centred justice

In October 2020, ministers of justice representing 20 countries gathered for a meeting co-hosted by Pathfinders for Justice, the OECD, and the Open Government Partnership to share their experiences in dealing with the COVID-19 crisis (Muller 2020). The ministers sought to ensure the safety of justice practitioners in their respective ministries. They shared concerns about budgets and how they worked hard to maintain the proper functioning of existing procedures. 

COVID-19 outbreaks in prisons, for example, forced them to take tough decisions.Some of the ministers alluded to a desire for deeper innovation. They sensed there was little to be gained from  locking up additional people. They looked beyond their own ministry for cooperation with civil society. All ministers shared experiences about moving justice services and delivery online. The Belgian minister proposed a ‘giant leap’ – to build a single digital platform through which citizens could access all justice services. Latvia is working on this already. The private sector can help the public sector bring these digital solutions to scale, drawing inspiration from the way innovation and scale has been achieved in the health sector. 

Frustration with complex procedures has made ‘simplifying procedures’ an increasingly popular mantra. Ministers of Justice are also increasingly focused on broadening, decentralising, and expanding legal help through collaboration with civil society organisations. 

The COVID-19 crisis also revealed a lack of preparedness on the part of ministries to adapt their services. Much was learned on how to implement changes quickly. Procedural rules were changed in a matter of days. Because ministers had to do all of this during the early months of 2020, the value of sharing international best practices became more apparent. More generally, ministers are looking for solutions that have proved to be effective elsewhere.

The underlying challenges and patterns suggest systemic risks. Conflict prevention and resolution are what societies hope to achieve by promoting the rule of law. Worldwide trends suggest that not taking this task as seriously as other sustainable development goals is a high-risk gamble. In 2021, only two of the world’s 25 most populous countries saw improvements in the World Justice Project Rule of Law Index: Germany and the Democratic Republic of Congo (World Justice Project 2021). According to the V-Dem Institute (2022), only 4% of countries are on track to improving democracy. V-Dem uses a broad, people-centred definition of democracy that includes electoral democracy, rule of law and protection of rights, participatory democracy, and deliberative democracy. The results are an indicator of societies’ conflict resolution capabilities. 

V-Dem’s data show not only a strong trend towards more autocratic regimes, but also how difficult it is for countries to move towards greater participation, dialogue, inclusiveness, and accountability. When democratic governments cannot deliver on peace, inclusivity and access to justice, elected autocrats provide the only alternative for voters. The world urgently needs credible pathways towards people-centred, inclusive, and well-functioning justice systems. Rigorous R&D and innovation can guide a gradual transition towards systems of governance that can resolve conflicts in a peaceful, inclusive, accessible, and equal manner. 

Assessing the current system

Another way to make the case for people-centred justice is to  assess how justice sector institutions are perceived by the population and justice practitioners.

In our 2018 Trend Report ‘Understanding Justice Needs: The elephant in the courtroom’, we suggested a low-cost and simple way to diagnose the condition of the current system. It can be applied to a national justice system, to a single institution, or to the supply chain of one type of justice problem.

9 indicators for assessing urgency

In India, Tata Trust (2020) sponsored an assessment of the capabilities of the justice institutions in each state. The indicators, which were collected in 2019, were not positive and were summarised in a strongly-worded message: 

Sadly, taken collectively the data paints a grim picture of justice being inaccessible to most. Findings highlight that each individual subsystem is starved for budgets, manpower and infrastructure; no state is fully compliant with standards it has set for itself; gender and diversity targets are improving only sluggishly, and are not likely to be met for decades; and governments are content to create ad hoc and patchwork remedies to cure deeply embedded systemic failures. Inevitably, the burden of all this falls on the public.

Signals of system stress may help convince individual leaders in the justice sector to take action. Whether a negative assessment motivates funders or outsiders to help, on the other hand, remains to be seen. A negative appraisal, and a sense of crisis, may also lead to denial or resignation. In 1974, the US government created the Legal Services Corporation to address the nationwide access to justice crisi. Numerous task forces have since used this language. If a crisis continues for half a century, is it really a crisis? Or is it a disease with no cure in sight?  

A more positive case – one that quantifies how solutions can contribute to well-being – is likely to be more effective. Pathways out of a crisis – and an explanation of how a task force can identify and facilitate them – need to be provided. At present,  newly established task forces can benefit from a growing body of knowledge on how to position the need for justice reform.

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Overview of the report

Trend Report 2021 – Delivering Justice / Overview of the report

Overview of the report

This report is based on HiiL’s many years of collecting data about people’s justice needs and experiences. This work was done together with partners including the World Justice Project, UNDP, the OECD and the Open Society Justice Initiative.

We had conversations with many ministers of justice, chief justices and their immediate teams. They told us about their struggles to set agendas, get them funded and implement them effectively. Dialogues with stakeholders aimed at pathways for reform, now one of the core activities of HiiL, have been an invaluable source of information.

The report is also based on working with many legal help organisations, in Africa and the MENA region, and also in Bangladesh, Indonesia, Ukraine and Western Europe, including our home country, the Netherlands. These organisations operate close to the people that experience the access to justice gap: mothers, fathers, workers, landowners, victims of crime, perpetrators of aggression, clients of public services and small businesses. We saw how legal help organisations interact with law firms, government bodies and religious organisations to deliver more effective justice.

In our work with justice innovators we have been close to the realities and experiences of more than one-hundred justice start ups in the past six years. Why did they fail? What allowed them to succeed? What do they and their funders need?
The team further explored this in case studies for this report regarding Legal Zoom in the US, problem-solving courts in several countries, houses of justice in Colombia, a criminal justice case-management system in Sierra Leone and local council courts in Uganda.

Our trend reports integrate these experiences with the latest research on access to justice. Academic research from many disciplines is contributing to this challenge. Evaluations and best practices inform the field and an informal coalition guides the research and developmental work to support people-centred justice. Our work greatly benefits from intensive dialogues and project cooperation with colleagues from the World Justice Project, UNHCR, the World Bank, Namati and the Open Government Partnership

People make the case

In Chapter 1, we provide examples of task forces and how they organised during the 2010s. We show how an international best practices approach is emerging. Access to justice initiatives by the Pathfinders for Peaceful, Just and Inclusive Societies, the OECD and the EU is supported by a network of specialised organisations working on the rule of law and access to justice including HiiL. One of the driving forces is Sustainable Development Goal 16:

Artboard 1

Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels.

The case for developing sound justice strategies is now moving hearts and minds. Injustice is a powerful motivator. When injustice is systemic, people gather on the streets to ask for fairness and redress. When the effects of globalisation threaten livelihoods, feelings of injustice heighten. A task force ideally also engages with positive emotions. Justice encourages finding peace, improving relationships and enabling growth.

The business case for improving access to justice is strong and can be quantified. Justice problems occur frequently. In a typical megacity or state with eight million people, 1 million residents will experience a pressing justice problem each year. Half of those problems will have a major negative impact. The annual burden of injustice imposed by only one category of problems (land justice, employment justice, crime) can easily add up to hundreds of millions of euros.

This calculation illustrates what can happen if the justice ecosystem fails to give people a voice and provide effective remedies. Data suggest that a substantial proportion of the population will experience feelings of frustration or neglect within a few years.

Governments across the world rightly see this as a threat to stability. In 2011, the World Bank already established the link between effective grievance mechanisms and the prevention of armed conflict.

The business case is also positive: more fairness will improve well-being. When people are relieved of an existential threat to their livelihood and can manage their relationships through more effective contracts, their contribution to the economy can grow.

Future-focused, well-scoped and smart about implementation

In Chapter 2, we look at how justice leaders are coming together in various kinds of groupings. In this report, we call them task forces: multidisciplinary groups that have committed to improving access to justice in one way or another. These task forces appear because ownership for the quality of justice is unclear and distributed among several institutions, each working independently. Court managers, administrative (labor, housing, family) agencies, ministries, prosecutors, private suppliers of justice services and “justice startups” need the skills, resources and resilience to navigate these challenges. We detail how justice task forces have been formed, how they build up legitimacy and what can be learned from their experiences. 

Task forces need to be resourced in a way that matches the size of their challenge. Early on, they envision a pathway forward, which includes implementation in terms of budgets and operations. They are familiar with the political, legal, administrative and financial environment. Most importantly, task forces build coalitions that ensure that their plans and designs become a reality. Smart task forces know how to turn ideas into organisations, programmes and policies by harnessing the public and the private sector’s potential.  

In the past, task forces have carried out ambitious analyses of justice gaps. They have identified flaws in the procedures and organisation of justice sector institutions. The reports they produced suggested long lists of improvements. Other task forces have focused on one class of injustices that happened in the past. One task force dealt with the impact of 9/11. Others designed remedies for crimes committed by members of religious organisations. 

Successful task forces are now future-oriented and start with determining their work scope (Chapter 3). Based on data, they prioritise the most pressing justice problems that need resolution now. They may focus on domestic violence or land problems. Alternatively, they may set out to improve the conditions for a particular relationship: informal and formal marriage, work relationships or to contract land and housing. State-of-the-art task forces set goals, establish indicators and set outcome-based targets. Benefiting from lessons learned, they try to avoid “justice innovation traps.” Instead, they focus on a few promising categories of justice services. These potential game-changers are developing across countries in response to the massive demand for justice.

People-centred justice builds on what works

In past decades, justice task forces have focused on laws, court infrastructure or more affordable legal services. Most experts now suggest that task forces commit to a people-centred justice approach. This builds on the successful 30 percent: improving what already works in courts, informal justice and other settings where people prevent and resolve issues. By systematically delivering better results for people, and by leveraging the contributions of other providers of justice, formal justice institutions can increase their legitimacy.  

When people experience justice problems, they often rely on friends and family for advice. Police officers, judges and lawyers deliver justice as a calling and for a living. Data reveals that the everyday practice of law trends towards coordinated problem solving with appropriate sanctions where needed. Research confirms this fits better with the outcomes people demand once they feel heard and respected. This approach also reflects how most communities respond to injustice, driven especially by a collective desire to restore harmony and prevent escalation. Politicians responsible for justice increasingly try to build on informal justice and restorative practices to aim for fair and prosperous societies. Social impact investors and philanthropists are prepared to sponsor the cause of inclusive societies and with equal access to justice for all.

The people-centred way of solving justice problems differs from what viewers see on Netflix and what law schools teach. There, justice is depicted as an adversarial game driven by a flow of accusations, claims and defenses, and culminating in verdicts providing relief. Cases reported by the media tend to be outliers, hardly representative of the one million justice problems that occur every year in a typical country of eight million. Task forces and justice innovators thus need to reflect on their communication strategy. 

Game-changing justice services are around the corner

What are task forces recommending and how do they approach implementation? Seven game-changing justice services are already on their radar or should be considered. Many initiatives seek to improve informal justice in communities, using interdisciplinary expertise to turn them into high-quality services for basic justice needs. User-friendly contracts can strengthen the ties and exchanges key to a sustainable livelihood: relationships at home, at work and about land or housing.

Adjudication and mediation can merge into one-stop-shop procedures, supported online and focused on increasing the capacity of courts to settle and decide more complex conflicts. Problem-solving courts specialising in the most common causes of crime are a success story that can be replicated. Claiming services already help people to access vital government services and increase accountability. Prevention of violence, theft and fraud can be programmed. Advice and legal assistance by lawyers can be facilitated online, offering a step-by-step resolution.

The case studies for this report illustrate how game-changing justice innovation relies on coordination. Bottom-up innovation of dispute resolution systems is hampered by regulation that is focused on producing verdicts through litigation. While courts and the rule of law need to be strengthened as government foundations, courts are only part of the picture. Successful justice systems encompass multiple coordinated avenues to resolve disputes. The transition towards more responsive justice institutions must occur in a setting where courts and other government agencies are overburdened. People-centred justice should, therefore, both change and reinforce institutions, thus increasing their legitimacy. This underlines the need for a systematic approach.

Five strategic interventions are needed

We argue that justice task forces should consider five strategic interventions focused on strengthening potential game-changers:

      1. Promoting evidence-based practice: justice practitioners and informal justice providers make high impact interventions in people’s lives. Task forces should ensure that interventions by justice practitioners are focused on the outcomes that people need, and that progress is monitored. Interventions should be standardised and improved continuously, based on best practices and informed by research. This will increase resolution rates and prevent new injustices. (Chapter 4)
      2. Innovating service delivery through potential gamechangers: Better and demonstrable results will attract more users. If justice services can be standardised and improved, they will generate more sustainable revenue streams for courts and other providers of justice services. The often difficult work can be better rewarded and interest from investors can grow. Improved organisational models, leadership and teams can ensure that justice services are scalable, gradually moving towards equal access for all (Chapter 5 and 6). 
      3. Improving the enabling environment for gamechangers: Innovation often requires new types of regulation, budgeting and public-private partnerships. Capital for investments needs to be mobilized and must lead to acceptable returns with social impact that can be measured (Chapter 7).
      4. Setting up the support structure of data and know-how: Systematic programming requires real-time data on the prevalence of justice problems, the ways problems are currently resolved by different segments of the population, outcomes and impacts. Applying and promoting international standards for data collection is necessary to ensure that results can be compared within and across jurisdictions, and that progress can be measured (Chapter 8). 
      5. Maintaining momentum nationally and internationally: Demand for justice from people needs to be channelled and supply needs to be coordinated. New institutions will be needed to support and provide services that meet the demand. Existing institutions will face an acute need to change. Task forces, therefore, need to strengthen the incentives on courts and other institutions, stimulating them to use the innovation potential in society. We sketch how a task force can turn into a permanent unit ensuring access to justice (Chapter 9).

In the pages that follow, we present the logic and knowledge base behind each strategic intervention. We also describe the methods HiiL and others are developing to support people-centred justice programming. The supporting case studies can be found here:

A massive undertaking with a worthy cause

What needs to be done is urgent, necessary and difficult. COVID-19, the global economic crisis and the decline in the rule of law make change even more paramount. Much effort has been put into strengthening justice systems in recent decades. Some things have worked, while others have yet to make an impact. Justice leaders at the top work to improve institutions: strengthening and increasing their capacity with training, new IT systems and better performance management. Grassroots leaders and justice practitioners resolve conflicts and cope with crime, improving and scaling how they work in villages and city neighbourhoods. But is all of this done in a systematic and coherent way that leads to real change? 

Ministers of justice have short mandates. They are limited by short-term election cycles and their lives are dictated by unexpected crises for which they must take responsibility. Many of the skills necessary to make change are not the kind of skills that justice practitioners and their leaders have learned in law schools. The justice sector is full of opposing interests that need to be turned into shared opportunities: judiciaries, bar associations, civil society organisations and the many agencies that compete for government budgets.

With that said, our analysis suggests that the effort needed to systematically bridge the justice gap is less massive than what is needed to solve other wicked problems affecting governments: poverty, COVID-19 or climate change. Economist Mariana Mazzucato has made the case for governments to identify and address “moonshot” challenges that require cooperation and the adoption of new technologies. Most of the technologies needed to take on justice challenges are known. Life is often peaceful, and humans have vast experience in resolving conflict and preventing crime. Implementing the best ways of working systematically and through new forms of cooperation is the primary challenge. 

The emerging picture of an improved justice system is inspiring. Instead of signposting a long and winding path to relief, task forces can now actually take steps to ensure fair outcomes for people when injustices threaten their livelihoods. Most injustices have many causes and need to be addressed by a combination of interventions, in which the individuals affected and the broader community have a role. Pursuing peace and justice for each pressing justice problem can restore and transform relationships between people and increase individual well-being. The macro-level task is hard but people have found fair solutions, recovered from injustices and achieved peace of mind countless times. Learning from experience and innovating justice systematically can help resolve at scale the most pressing justice problems.

Print Friendly – Covid-19 Wave 1

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Surge of injustice expected Targeted response required to guarantee peace and justice

Thought leaders in the justice sector are concerned about a looming wave of legal problems. They expect incidents of injustice to surge. This may lead to civil unrest in some countries. Business as usual – by courts and police enforcing laws, with legal services available for the few – is unlikely to work. Thought leaders offered clear indications on how courts, ministers of justice and politicians should respond to safely and effectively deliver justice.

The inability to respond in a timely and effective manner to concerns by average citizens will further entrench the perception that the justice system favors the wealthy and the well connected.

Data are needed to guide the response

We invite you to explore views of thought leaders for your country

As a first step, we asked thought leaders in the countries where we work about their views on the impact of Covid-19 on the delivery of justice. Two-hundred and seventy one leaders from more than 20 countries engaged in this dialogue via an online questionnaire.

The respondents have significant experience. Sixty-eight percent have more than 10 years of professional experience and 18% more than 6 years. Twenty-six percent are lawyers, 19% work for NGOs, 13% are judges or prosecutors, 9% are academics and 8% are justice innovators.

The interactive charts below allow you to explore the detailed views of these leaders, country by country.

Immediate response

We first asked what justice institutions did to adapt to the Covid-19 challenge. In many countries, justice institutions were closed (May 2020). Video-conferencing solutions were widely implemented and rules of procedure were changed through emergency laws.

Currently most justice systems are only applying technology to the same inaccessible systems instead of rethinking the entire justice delivery model. Part of the problem is the very rigid regulation that governs justice systems.

Expected justice problems and impact

Justice needs research carried out before the pandemic shows that the five most prevalent categories of justice problems are land, family, crime, employment and neighbour disputes.

Increase in number of conflicts and disputes

The thought leaders expect a surge in disputes that are directly related to the global economic depression, including business problems, debt, and employment disputes. They also anticipate that the economic crisis and the public health measures will put intense pressure on families and communities, leading to a significant increase in family disputes and domestic violence. Other disputes, including (access to) welfare, health bills and insurance, tax, and housing issues are also expected to increase worldwide. 

The vulnerable will be hit hardest by the crisis. Interventions to increase access to justice should be targeted to address the needs of this group.

Regarding the effect of the pandemic on crime, variation across regions is very significant.

A small increase or even a slight decrease is expected in Europe and other high and middle income nations.

A sharp increase in crime is expected in low and lower-middle income countries (particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa).

Individual thought leaders also pointed to:

  • Challenges faced by the poor, women & children and people with mental health issues exacerbated by debt caused by the Covid-19 measures
  • Unlawful dismissals and non-payment of wages
  • Serious crimes in military zones
  • Severe economic (inflation) crisis in Lebanon and Syria. Inflation and high costs will lead to an increase of crime
  • Improper/violent enforcement of Covid-19 measures.

The major risk I envisage is that there will be higher imbalance between the justice demands of the society and the ability of justice institutions to respond to such demand.

SMEs will likely encounter more legal problems as well

Bankruptcies, debt disputes, disputes with employees and disputes with suppliers are expected. 

There is already a body of knowledge about the distribution of legal problems. From the HiiL dataset of justice needs from about 20 countries we know that of the most serious legal problems:

  • 10% are employment disputes
  • 9% are family disputes
  • 7% are debt disputes and
  • 3% are domestic violence.

We also know that around 53% of the 5.5 billion adult people in this world report one or more legal problems every 4 years.

From here we see that roughly there are around 1 billion serious legal problems each year. The justice leaders said that employment, family, debt and domestic violence problems will increase significantly. We will use anticipation in two scenarios – increase of problems with 10% and 25%. The table below predicts the additional global demand for justice caused by the pandemic. Note that the figures are based on several assumptions and should be considered with care.
Scenario 1:
10% increase per 1 million
Scenario 2:
25% increase per 1 million
Domestic Violence

Impact on individuals and societies is substantial; eruptions of violence possible

Covid-19 related problems will cause loss of jobs and income; in countries with a large informal job market or weak employment protection legislation, this has already happened.
Closures of businesses, stress-related illness, and damage to family relationships are already impacting people’s lives as well.

In the MENA region and in Sub-Saharan Africa more than 60% of respondents expect violence as a consequence of the new wave of justice problems.

Expected outcomes: A widening justice gap

I am concerned that the administration of justice is not proactive enough to deal adequately with swift changes. The courts have been behind for 8 weeks. Compare that to the fast switch in education to online teaching

  • Respondents are not optimistic about how this surge of additional justice problems will be resolved
  • 70% expect problems to escalate more often
  • Problems are expected to be resolved more often between the parties
  • Solutions are expected to be less fair and achieved less quickly. A large increase in the number of disputes, together with Covid-19-induced inefficiencies, will result in significant additional delays, particularly among low and middle income countries. In sum, the justice gap will widen.

A number of thought leaders reacted emotionally or expressed strong concern:

Increased court dockets act as access to justice barriers.
[Delivery of justice] depends on who is on the other side.
Courts not accommodating urgent cases (i.e. illegal evictions; domestic violence).

Views on remedies needed

More informal and early intervention is expected to help

  • Justice leaders see preventive measures and informal interventions including legal information and advice, assisted negotiation, and mediation as most effective for helping people prevent and resolve the current wave of legal problems.
  • The majority of justice leaders across income levels felt that supply of these interventions should be increased.
    More formal interventions typically offered by the courts (“sanctions”) were broadly believed to be slightly less effective in the COVID-19 climate.
  • This may be due in part to the fact that many formal justice institutions that would normally be responsible for adjudication and sanctioning are closed or operating at very limited capacity.

A detailed pattern of interventions is believed to deliver peace and justice

When we asked about interventions in detail, we see considerable doubt among justice leaders across regions and income levels about the need for punitive interventions at this time.

More constructive and informal interventions such as respecting, shaping solutions, and restoring were seen as more important for addressing people’s present problems. Two thirds of those surveyed also placed a high value on monitoring outcomes (“improving”). This suggests that in a time of significant uncertainty and change, ensuring the quality and sustainability of interventions that prevent and resolve is a top priority for many leaders in the justice sector.

Views on service delivery models

[I expect] to learn what works/doesn't work in terms of online collaboration and developing new and improved (informal & digital) procedures.

Community justice courts or services will be in high demand

  • Fast court procedures and legal services by lawyers continue to be valued.
  • But there is even more interest in prioritising community justice and other less conventional service delivery models such as legal apps, online one-stop-shops and community policing.
  • This may be because the local and/or online features of these models make them accessible to greater numbers of people during a time of lockdowns and social distancing.
  • The lack of support for zero-tolerance policies may be linked to increasingly overcrowded prisons, which have proven to be particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 outbreaks.

Lean away from the formal system and increase reliance on community-led justice strategies.

  • Justice leaders from low income countries see apps that prevent violence and fraud as a top priority, while their higher income counterparts consider them relatively unimportant.
  • This may be because protecting people from violence is of greater concern in low income countries.
  • Support for fast courts with adversarial procedures increases with income level. In lower level income countries video-conferencing is not expected to work, and courts may be less accessible anyhow.

Views on system change needed

Views on system change needed

In a recent report, the Task Force on Justice recommended a set of priorities for justice leaders to respond to Covid-19 related challenges.
We asked thought leaders to choose from these priorities.
The resulting ranking varies by region, income level and country but we see that the key elements are:

  • Protecting the justice workforce
  • Increasing innovation and smart working
  • Enforcing emergency measures fairly

[The priority is to] create new procedures that play a more positive role in resolving legal problems.” “Innovative justice delivery through out-of-the-box thinking.” "The challenge is to create a system that balances good service with protection. It means rethinking spaces, procedures and ways of working.

Thought leaders worldwide identify the need to increase innovation and smart working, as the most important strategy to deal with challenges brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic in the justice sector.

The challenge is how to adapt, how do we give people what they need in an economy like ours. This leads to the opportunity to finally move legal practice into the digital age, but how do we balance this with the truth that most of our population in the rural areas don't have smart phones and computers. Many are elderly and bent over walking sticks trying to fight for their right to a piece of land they desperately know to be theirs. Maybe by implementing technology where possible it will allow for less backlog of cases so that nobody has to go through this at such an age.

In lower income countries, where law and order institutions are assumed to be weaker, the justice leaders identify the need to protect people from violence as an equally important priority.

In Latin America, where income inequality is among the highest in the world, justice leaders identify the need to enforce emergency measures fairly, as the top priority.

In Europe, where safety concerns are lower than in other regions, and justice services are more equally accessible across segments of the population, the needs to protect the justice workforce, and to prepare for future disease containment phases, are signaled as relatively more important than in other parts of the world.

Other priorities mentioned include:

  • Easily accessible information online
  • Accessible procedures for Covid-19 specific problems
    Access to more affordable or free legal services
  • Prevention of problems through preventive rules and ADR
  • Focus on vulnerable groups such as women, youth, disabled people, poor and sex workers
    Promotion of social cohesion.

The Covid-19 pandemic and restrictions are a challenge but also an opportunity. It is time when:

The value of justice and the justice system can be demonstrated.

Support the justice workers by way of motivation and necessary tools to be able to support people to get justice.

Technologies such as video-conferencing, e-filing, digital identity etc. can be accepted faster. However, this can lead to divides between digitally literate and not literate people.

Thought leaders recommend flexible regulation of procedures to enable innovation

  • In low and lower-middle income countries, thought leaders consider a legal framework that allows for technological and procedural adaptation in the courts a top priority for enabling the justice system to adapt to the Covid-19 crisis.
  • There is also significant interest in developing and implementing innovative justice delivery models and services.
  • Without courts to deliver justice as usual, new ways of meeting people’s justice needs at scale are recognised as sorely needed.

Financial models and structural reforms are also mentioned as priorities

In higher income countries, new and more sustainable financial models are a priority. There is less sense of urgency around more ambitious and structural reforms, such as rethinking roles and responsibilities between justice sector organisations and public/private cooperation in relation to investment. Thought leaders across income levels seem to consider practical adaptations of the justice system more important than creative realignments of relationships and responsibilities in the sector at this time.

Views on capabilities of justice leaders to cope with challenges

Satisfaction with response until now is not high

31% of the thought leaders are (very) satisfied with the justice sector’s response to the crisis.. 45% are (very) dissatisfied, and a quarter are neither satisfied or dissatisfied. In the Latin American region justice leaders’ perception of the system’s response to this crisis is slightly better than in other regions (close to half are satisfied and a third dissatisfied).

Justice leaders may need to invest in skills, relationships and coordination processes

Finally, we also asked whether the justice leaders in your country have the necessary skills, relationships and coordination processes to respond effectively to the Covid-19 crisis.

13% strongly disagrees that they do and a further 36% disagrees.

Almost a quarter of respondents remain undecided about the capacity of their leaders.

It may be that the COVID-19 crisis has not been going on long enough for experts to make an assessment of the performance and capacity of their justice leaders.

Political leadership [is needed] to adapt existing institutions and processes to needs of people who want to resolve disputes quickly and effectively

Summary of findings and implications

Based on these opinions of thought leaders, the justice gap is expected to increase.

The impact of justice problems will be considerable, with large scale violence being a substantial risk in a number of countries.

Courts, police and other justice services will have to adapt their services, focusing on interventions that are most likely to resolve or prevent an additional wave of justice problems.

Just rendering decisions and imposing sanctions is unlikely to work.

The situation asks for a richer and more accessible portfolio of interventions, delivered locally, online or in communities.

Developing innovative service delivery models is seen as the main way forward.
In light of the sheer size of the challenges ahead, it is not surprising that justice leaders are thought to benefit from new skills, relationships and coordination processes.


Justice Needs in Burkina Faso

Justice Needs in Burkina Faso:
view from a small sample


In the spring of 2020, HiiL was supposed to talk to thousands of people throughout Burkina Faso to learn about the legal problems they face in daily life and how they try to resolve these problems. Unfortunately, the outbreak of the COVID-19 crisis and adoption of travel restrictions meant this was no longer possible.

COVID-19 has forced many around the globe to become creative and innovative. In order to still get an idea of the legal problems in Burkina Faso, we decided to launch an online survey, filled in by respondents recruited via social media. This report is the result of that exercise. It aims to answer the following questions:

The data in this online report is displayed in interactive charts. We show, rather than tell. Readers are invited to click through the graphs to see differences between demographic groups and for different problems. In this way, they can obtain answers to their own questions.

This report is a part of a larger study that is scheduled to take place in Burkina Faso in 2021 where we will undertake a large scale Justice Needs and Satisfaction Survey with thousands of people in the country. We hope to continue to support access to justice in Burkina Faso with new data, insights and solutions.

Methodology and limitations

To measure justice we talk directly to thousands of people. The core of our methodology is to randomly select individuals so their voices represent the whole population of a country. Normally trained interviewers sit with the selected respondents and discuss the legal issues in daily life, what people do to resolve them, and whether they actually manage to have their problems resolved.

But 2020 was not an ordinary year. Like many other countries in the world, Burkina Faso closed its international borders and imposed travel restrictions to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic. Hence, it was no longer possible to conduct the Justice Needs and Satisfaction survey according to the standard face-to-face mode of data collection.

We were left with two options: to wait until the measures are lifted or to explore new ways for data collection. Urged by the anticipated impact of the pandemic on people’s justice needs, we decided to seek alternatives which can give a clue about:

We decided to turn to the internet as an option to gather data during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, that brought its set of challenges. Internet penetration in Burkina Faso is one of the lowest in the world. Only 17.7% of the population in Burkina Faso has access to the internet.1 Allegedly there are 840 000 Facebook users.2 Data collection was expected to be challenging.
Between September and November 2020 we published advertisements on Facebook and Instagram, inviting people to take part in a short survey. Organised in two campaigns, the advertisements reached 1.6 million users, but some users have seen them more than once. In total, the advertisements have been seen 4.17 million times.
By monitoring the data collection, we found out that more men use Facebook and Instagram in Burkina Faso. To correct this sampling bias, we adjusted the advertisements to make sure that they reached more women. Although this did help, the final sample remains biased towards men.

The advertisements invite the respondent to fill in a short survey. To encourage users to participate in the survey, we offered each respondent the chance to win a cash voucher for 20 000 CFA franc.3 Fifty vouchers were distributed between the people who agreed to share a phone or email contact.

As a result of the advertisement campaigns, 444 individuals filled in the survey. 31 people did not consent on leaving personal data and therefore did not proceed to the substantive questions. Clearly, the final sample is not representative of the population of Burkina Faso. Survey respondents are younger, better educated, mostly from urban areas, and most likely wealthier than the overall population. Hence, we caution the readers that the results cannot be extrapolated towards the entire adult population of Burkina Faso. To better interpret our findings, we compare them where possible to what is, at least to our awareness, the only other study of justice needs: a survey on access to justice conducted by the World Justice Project in 2017 among 1029 respondents in the three largest cities of Burkina Faso.



In total, we collected 413 fully filled out surveys. Out of these 413 respondents:
While the sample is skewed towards young, highly educated men, the data visualisations in this report allow for the examination of smaller groups in the sample. Throughout the report, you can click the charts to select different demographics and see how this changes the results.

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Justice gap

Legal problems in Burkina Faso

58% of people who filled in the survey experienced at least one legal problem in the last year. On average, these people experienced 2.3 problems.

The percentage is higher than in neighbouring Mali, where HiiL found that 39% of people had experienced a legal problem in the last four years. To compare, the WJP found that 69% of people in Burkina Faso experienced a legal problem in the last two years.

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Types of legal problems

We asked people which types of problems they experienced in the last twelve months. Select the different demographics to see the problems experienced by different groups.

The three most common problems are misbehaving neighbours, consumer problems, and employment problems. The skewed sample might play a role in this. For example, we know from JNS surveys in other countries (including in Mali) that land problems are often very common, but also that they are more often experienced in rural areas. The WJP uses a different categorisation and has more reported problems because they cover two years, making comparisons not straightforward. 

They found that consumer and money problems are most prevalent in Burkina Faso, followed by problems related to the community, public services, and education. Employment and neighbour problems are less common in their sample.

For each problem they experienced, we asked people two questions:

If the problem had been resolved, we also asked how fair the resolution was. By selecting specific problems, you can see how the answers change depending on the type of problem.

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On average, problems are scored with 5.84 in terms of seriousness. The problems rated as most serious are land problems and crime, while accidents and problems around obtaining identity documents are considered least serious.


Almost half of the problems (47%) have been partially or completely resolved. Most problems are on-going, while almost one in five problems is completely abandoned. Crime and employment problems are least likely to be resolved.

These findings are not too different from the WJP, which found that 39% of problems were fully resolved, 9% persists, and 52% on-going. It is interesting to note that compared to other African countries where HiiL conducted a JNS, in Burkina Faso less problems are completely resolved, but considerably more are partially resolved.



Most people who managed to resolve their problem, either partially or fully, indicated this had not led to a satisfying outcome. Only 20% of resolved problems is considered to be resolved in a fair manner, and another 20% is considered moderately fair. Since only half of the problems are resolved in the first place, this means roughly 20% of all problems are resolved in a way that is considered to be at least moderately fair.

Until this point in the survey, we asked people to tell us about all their legal problems. In the next stage, we asked them which problem was the most serious one and how they went about resolving it. The following section will dive deeper into these questions.


Resolution process

If people experienced more than one problem, we asked them to select the most serious one. Click the demographics in the chart to see what the most serious problems are for different groups of people.

The most serious problems differ slightly from the most common problems identified above. The three most serious problems are misbehaving neighbours, land problems, and employment problems. So while consumer problems occur quite frequently (they are the second most common problem in terms of frequency), they are clearly considered to be less serious. On the other hand, land problems occur less frequently, but are generally considered as more serious.

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83% of the people took some sort of action to resolve their most serious problem. This is similar to what we have seen in Ethiopia, Kenya, and Uganda. It is slightly higher than in Nigeria (71%), but lower than in Mali (91%).

The percentage of people taking action varies between different age groups, with people between 18 and 24 less likely to take action than older age groups.

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What action do people take?

Own actions

In most cases, people who took action talked directly to the other party. 73% of people with a legal problem talked to the other party in order to resolve their problem. Especially people whose problem involves someone they know tried to reach a solution through direct negotiation. Talking to the other party is less common when encountering crime or when trying to obtain personal identity documents. 

This indicates that especially problems in the sphere of civil justice – such as problems related to family, land, employment, personal loans, or housing – are often negotiated between the involved parties without engaging a third party.

Unfortunately these negotiations with the other party are often unsuccessful: approximately 37% of people managed to achieve an agreement with the other party. At the same time, this does mean that a considerable number of people manage to achieve satisfying outcomes without engaging the formal justice system.

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Third parties

When engaging a third party to try to solve their problem, people most often turned to their direct social network: family, friends, and neighbours. As with bilateral negotiations, their help is utilised especially for disputes within the civil sphere. For crime and accidents, the police were the first source of help. The WJP also found that most people looking for help turned to friends or family (65%), and that only a small number of people engage a lawyer, court, or the police.

The most common intervention offered by third parties was giving advice (26%), followed by mediating the case (20%). Especially family, friends, and neighbours often give advice. Third parties are not always helpful: the third most common answer to the question what a third party did is ‘nothing’.

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Despite the fact that family members, friends and neighbours are usually not trained in law or dispute resolution, 47% of people found one of these informal resolution providers the most helpful source of help for their legal problem. Police, lawyers, and courts together count for 35%. It should be noted that the percentages for this question overlap almost perfectly with those of the question above (who helped you solve the problem?).

Some differences exist between men and women: women tend to rely more often on their family members, while men more often seek help from their friends and neighbours.

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How do people evaluate the process?

In the process of resolving their problem, more than 90% of people report spending nothing or only a small amount of money and time. This is a hopeful indicator and in line with the WJP data, which shows most people were able to afford the process and spent on average three months on resolving their problem. However, this does not mean that the process is easy: a clear majority of people (88%) report experiencing a large or very large amount of stress while trying to resolve their legal problem.

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The spiderweb chart presents peoples’ evaluation of the process they went through to resolve their problem: 1.00 indicates a low evaluation for a certain dimension of the problem, while 5.00 would be a very positive evaluation. The dimensions featured in the chart, starting at the top and going clockwise, are:
On average, people evaluate their process under 2.00 for all dimensions; this is very low, also in comparisons with other countries.

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Expected legal problems

If people did not experience any legal problem in the last year, we asked them to anticipate the likelihood of experiencing different types of legal problems in the upcoming year. Most of these people do not expect to experience a legal problem in the upcoming twelve months. Problems related to debt and money, consumer problems, and land problems are believed to be most likely to occur, but still only one in ten persons found this to be likely. It is noteworthy that nobody believed it was likely they would become a victim of a crime.

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Conclusion and discussion

In this report, we presented the results of an online survey on legal problems among people in Burkina Faso. The results indicate that 58% of surveyed people experienced a legal problem. On average, they experienced 2.3 legal problems in the past year. The most common problems are misbehaving neighbours, consumer problems, and employment problems.

Almost half of all problems were partially or completely resolved. This is a hopeful sign about the justice system in Burkina Faso. However, this also means more than half of problems are not being resolved. One third of problems are on-going and one in five problems is abandoned. This suggests the existence of a considerable justice gap in Burkina Faso.

Most people who experienced a legal problem took some sort of action to resolve their most serious problem. The majority of respondents talked directly to the other party, especially in the case of problems in the civil justice sphere. Approximately 37% of these people managed to solve their problem in this way.

When engaging a third party, most people turned to someone in their social network: family, friends, or neighbours. The only exception to this are crime and accidents, when people primarily sought help from the police. In most cases, people received advice from these third parties. Despite the informal nature of these justice providers, they are often seen as the most helpful source of help.

Most people spent none to a small amount of money and time on the resolution process. While this in itself is a promising sign, a large majority of people experience a large or very large amount of stress because of their legal problem. Evaluations of the dispute resolution process are also mostly negative.

This study has provided valuable lessons about gathering justice data in a complicated and restrictive environment. It shows the benefits and drawbacks of rapid data collection from a non-systematic random sample of users of justice in a country where only a limited part of the population, with specific demographic characteristics, has access to the internet. What does this mean for the value of such types of studies?

Despite the obvious limitation of non-representativeness, the data provides a glimpse into the access to justice landscape in Burkina Faso. Comparisons with the WJP data show some differences, but also important similarities in key findings. This study can be seen as a viewfinder for the justice needs of the overall population of Burkina Faso. Follow-up studies can use it as a benchmark or as a basis for refining their theories, methods, and results. Such studies can also shine further light on the strengths and limitations of the current methodological approach.

Moreover, although the sample is skewed, young and educated urbanites are a dynamic and important group and the study tells us which are the justice needs of that group and how they cope with them. We can see how many and which problems are resolved and which are not. This knowledge can directly inform policy makers and service providers about what can be done to improve justice services for a key demographic.

HiiL’s primary objective is to gain a better understanding of the justice gap in Burkina Faso and to support the development and implementation of user-friendly solutions. To that end, in the coming year, we will build upon this study and conduct further research into the justice needs of people in Burkina Faso.



Dr. Jelmer Brouwer, Data Analysis and Reporting Officer

Armi Korhonen, Justice Sector Advisor

Dr. Martin Gramatikov, Director Measuring Justice

Manasi Nikam, Knowledge Management Officer

Prof. Dr. Maurits Barendrecht, Director Research & Development

About HiiL

HiiL (The Hague Institute for Innovation of Law) is a social enterprise devoted to user-friendly justice. That means justice that is easy to access, easy to understand, and effective. We will ensure that by 2030, 150 million people will be able to prevent or resolve their most pressing justice problems. We do this by stimulating innovation and scaling what works best. We are friendly rebels focused on concrete improvements in the lives of people. Data and evidence is central in all that we do. We are based in The Hague, City of Peace and Justice.

The Hague Institute for Innovation of Law
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P.O. Box 93033, 2509 AA The Hague
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E-mail: info@hiil.org

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Delivering Justice in the COVID-19 Crisis: Solutions and Interventions

Delivering Justice in the COVID-19 Crisis:
Solutions and Interventions

We invite you to explore the views of thought leaders around the world

What should preventative, constructive and informal interventions during the COVID-19 crisis look like?

What are the most effective models for delivering community justice?

What kinds of system change do these unprecedented circumstances most urgently demand? 

In a follow-up survey on delivering justice in the time of COVID-19, 85 thought leaders shared their views about these questions with us. These leaders come primarily from Uganda, Bulgaria, the Netherlands and Syria. Over half are lawyers, judges, or prosecutors, and 69% have over ten years of experience in the justice sector. 

Though by no means representative, the survey results give an impression of where these people-centred justice leaders will set their sights to deliver justice in the coming months and years. 

Thought leaders participated, coming from:
*hover for details
  • Uganda (22%)
  • Bulgaria (16%)
  • The Netherlands (13%)
  • Syria (11%)
  • Other (38%)
have over ten years of experience in the justice sector

The thought leaders surveyed are increasingly open to judges expanding their role to facilitate dialogue and oversee fair solutions. As a group, they are positive about guided negotiation as a first step in procedures, problem-solving dialogue in courts, and court-ordered remedies that aim to repair harm. They also tend to believe that local and regional courts and community policing have the greatest potential to deliver community justice at scale in the current climate.

To improve the capacity of existing procedures and technologies, the thought leaders were most optimistic about video hearings, mobile technology, and online platforms. Updated laws of procedure and a greater investment in R&D will likely be needed to make way for innovative adaptation to the COVID-19 crisis and increase access to justice. 

On the whole, we find that the thought leaders surveyed are optimistic about delivering people-centred justice to the majority of the population in their respective countries despite the significant challenges that lie ahead.


Preventative, constructive and informal interventions

In the first survey on delivering justice in the time of COVID-19, thought leaders made clear their belief that preventative, constructive and informal interventions have the greatest potential to resolve people’s present justice problems. Sanctioning and punishing were seen as less effective.

We asked the 85 thought leaders introduced above to take this one step further by reflecting on specific interventions. The sections that follow describe what they believe to be the most promising ways of reaching resolution in four key stages of any constructive justice process: meeting, respecting, shaping solutions, and restoring.


Opening a channel of communication between the parties

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Over half of the thought leaders surveyed said that all of the interventions provided would be likely or very likely to help in opening a channel of communication between the parties. They were most confident about making a guided negotiation before a court decision (to identify, resolve, and define remaining conflict issues) the default process. They were also very positive about inviting parties (including lawyers) to participate in a judge-led dialogue as a first step in civil and administrative procedures.

The least popular intervention was inviting the parties (including lawyers, prosecutors and victims) to participate in a judge-led dialogue as a first step in criminal procedures.

These results and the additional reflections provided indicate that thought leaders see clear value in bringing parties together to talk as a default process in civil matters. When it comes to criminal matters, they are more skeptical about the appropriateness of this approach. 

A handful of experts also remarked on the value of dialogues that are ordered or overseen by the court, as this “marries coercion and collaboration” and encourages the parties to take the process more seriously.


Helping parties take one another seriously as human beings

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Over half of the thought leaders said that all of the interventions provided would be likely or very likely to help parties take one another seriously as human beings and respect each other. The only exception was one-stop shop online platforms, which were seen as less valuable.

Facilitative mediation, a restorative justice process, and negotiation were considered the most promising interventions. These results suggest that thought leaders are more confident in processes involving face-to-face dialogue to facilitate and foster respect between parties than online platforms. This finding is striking given the COVID-19 climate, in which online platforms may be more accessible.

Shaping solutions

Exploring possible solutions to meet the needs and interests of the parties

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Thought leaders’ views with regard to the interventions most likely to help parties shape solutions were nearly the same as their views regarding those most likely to facilitate and foster respect.

Again, over half of the thought leaders said all the interventions provided would be very likely or likely to enable the shaping of solutions, with the exception of one-stop shop online platforms.

And again, facilitative mediation and a restorative justice process were the most favoured interventions. In both of these processes, the parties involved are encouraged to generate their own solutions based on an understanding of one another’s interests and needs.


Repairing harm and preventing future harm

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Over half of the thought leaders surveyed said that all of the interventions provided – with the exception of circle processes –  would be likely or very likely to help parties repair harm and prevent future harm. They were most confident about court orders with remedies that aim to repair and prevent harm and restitution programs.

These results again indicate a preference restorative and dialogue-based interventions that are ordered or overseen by the courts rather than independent from them. The fact that over half of the thought leaders surveyed were “neutral” about the potential of circles processes may suggest that many were not familiar with the term.  

Overall, the thought leaders were clear in their belief that a wide range of interventions can facilitate constructive justice delivery. Interventions that involve face-to-face dialogue and are not entirely informal (in the sense that they take place within the formal justice system) are preferred over interventions facilitated online or in a criminal context.


Community justice delivery models

In the first justice in the time of COVID-19 survey, we asked about the most promising justice delivery models in the COVID-19 crisis. Thought leaders from diverse regions and income-levels clearly favoured community justice.

This time, we asked thought leaders which community justice models they see as having the greatest potential to deliver the interventions highlighted in the previous section. We also wanted to know which were most likely to effectively scale.

The thought leaders indicated that houses of justice (centres where different disciplines coordinate their interventions) and regional or local courts were the most likely to effectively deliver community justice during the COVID-19 crisis. 

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Regional or local courts and community policing were seen as having the greatest potential to be brought to scale to cover every community. These two community justice delivery models were also considered best suited for the COVID-19 climate, in which coming together physically and/or accessing technology is not always possible.

The lowest scoring community justice delivery models in all categories were religious courts and justices of the peace.

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The results show a high level of faith in regional or local courts, houses of justice, and community police to deliver justice at scale during the COVID-19 pandemic and a healthy degree of skepticism about the capacity of religious courts and justices of the peace. This suggests that thought leaders are most confident about community justice delivery models that are connected to the formal justice system.

Other community justice service delivery models that were not included in the survey but were highlighted and considered promising by the thought leaders surveyed include: online platforms, local governance structures, mobile courts, arbitration centres, community legal organisations, paralegal services, Local Council Courts, and a range of traditional dispute resolution mechanisms.


System change priorities

In the first justice in the time of COVID-19 survey, we asked thought leaders to identify the top three priorities for thought leaders responding to challenges related to the pandemic.

Three major system change priorities emerged: 

a framework for improving procedures and technologies in the courts;

the development and implementation of innovative delivery models;

adapting services and procedures to the COVID-19 climate.

We asked the 85 thought leaders what they believe is most needed to make these three priorities realities.

Improving procedures and technologies in the courts

Video hearings, information and advice via mobile technology and platforms supporting a two-sided contract or settlement to a conflict were considered most essential to a framework for improving procedures and technologies in the courts. AI-related technology – including AI-facilitated diagnosis and triage and AI-facilitated decision-making – were considered least important of the interventions provided. 

These results may reflect the reality that many courts around the world still lack basic technology needed to share information and settle conflicts remotely. For this reason, the use of AI to support procedures is generally seen as unrealistic or superfluous.

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Developing and implementing innovative and accessible justice delivery models

To develop innovative justice delivery models, the following ideas are considered most necessary:

Laws of procedure that allow for rapid, independent certification and implementation of new and more effective procedures (instead of a political process to change laws of procedure);

Research and development into improved interventions and innovative delivery models before pilots are started. 

Revenue models that ensure financial sustainability with clear contributions by parties and government were considered less important.

As one expert pointed out, “research and development into improved interventions and innovative delivery models [is needed] before pilots are started.”

Taken together, the views of the thought leaders indicate that laws of procedure that allow for innovative newcomers to be certified complement and support justice R&D identifying what works. The financial sustainability of these innovative delivery models is considered secondary to leveling the playing field and improving the status quo.

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Adapting services and procedures to the COVID-19 climate

Asked for their individual views on adapting services and procedures to the COVID-19 climate, thought leaders emphasised that new technologies supporting virtual justice delivery must be user-friendly: “with a human touch and input.” Video conferencing to facilitate remote hearings, electronic legal services and documents, and one-stop shop platforms where procedures and payments could be centralised online were mentioned as examples of this. The thought leaders also noted the importance of more accessible internet for fair and effective e-justice delivery.

In addition to new technologies, thought leaders called for greater adoption of health security measures and real time communication, including “more personal/informal contact via phone or email.”

Thought leaders also highlighted the need to allocate resources in a way that allowed for “greater de-formalisation and solutions at a local level.” Restorative community justice mechanisms and mobile courts were mentioned as ways of “taking justice to the people” and facilitating conflict resolution. 

Lastly, thought leaders called for victim-centred justice and legal protection for women and children. This included “providing mental health and psychosocial support for survivors, focus on counteracting stereotypes and stigmatization, and survivor-centred and gender-sensitive services and procedures.”


Confronting risks, challenges and opportunities in the justice sector

In the first justice in the time of COVID-19 survey, we asked thought leaders what risks, challenges and opportunities they foresaw at the start of the global pandemic.

They identified a tension between opportunities for innovation in the justice sector brought on by social distancing on the one hand, and the risk that large segments of the population will be excluded from e-justice on the other.

Now that several months have passed since the crisis began, we asked thought leaders to share what they believe were the most promising ways of dealing with key risks, challenges and opportunities posed by the COVID-19 crisis in their countries.

The majority of thought leaders identified a realistic assessment of current access barriers as a baseline and improved access to services for target groups from there and remedying access barriers for specific vulnerable persons first, before implementing new procedures and interventions as key ways forward.

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This suggests that thought leaders in the justice sector remain keenly aware of access barriers and the need to take them into careful consideration before implementing new technologies, procedures, or interventions in response to COVID-19. At the same time, only a quarter were in favor of focusing efforts and funds on (probably costly) measures for the 20% most vulnerable groups first, and letting the less vulnerable 80% of the target group cope with access barriers by themselves. 

This indicates that while they are aware of the significant challenges posed by the pandemic, thought leaders around the world remain optimistic about delivering justice to the majority of the population in their respective countries, and are not yet prepared to limit emergency measures to the most vulnerable.

About the authors

Isabella Banks, Justice Sector Advisor

Dr. Martin Gramatikov, Director Measuring Justice

Prof. Dr. Maurits Barendrecht, Director Research & Development


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Before, during and after COVID-19: Legal problems of mSMEs in Ukraine

Before, during and after Covid-19:
legal problems of mSMEs in Ukraine

Key findings

A relatively small proportion of the micro, small and medium scale enterprises (mSMEs) from the survey sample — 16% — say that in the past 2 years they had to deal with legal problems. But the reported legal problems are very serious, impactful, and costly.

The most common problems are related to disputes with suppliers and clients, corporate fraud (raiding), or business premises. Many mSMEs try to solve the issue but do not receive closure. They actively pursue negotiations but it is difficult to convince the other party to cooperate. This indicates the need for services that bring the parties together to meet, talk, negotiate, decide, and implement fair solutions.

mSMEs frequently try to resolve problems by involving third parties such as lawyers, courts, public authorities, and accountants in the dispute. With the exception of the public authorities, they perceive other providers of dispute resolution services as helpful. At the same time, third parties provide a limited range of interventions.

Most often they help with advice about parties’ rights and obligations. This indicates that besides advice and information, mSMEs need justice treatments that resolve problems fairly.
Most of the legal problems of mSMEs remain unresolved. This is a challenge but also an opportunity for the justice innovators in Ukraine.

mSMEs are rather dissatisfied with the quality of procedures and outcomes of justice processes. They scored the quality of the procedures and outcomes around or lower the middle of the scale. Justice workers, policy-makers, and innovators need to listen to the voices of mSMEs and focus their efforts on improving processes and outcomes.

The evidence of this report was gathered during the unprecedented times of the Covid-19 healthcare crisis. mSMEs are conscious of the consequences of the crisis on their functioning. They foresee primarily three types of problems to increase due to the pandemic: problems related to insolvency of clients or suppliers, compliance with health and safety requirements, and their own insolvency.


In 2016, HiiL asked thousands of individuals in Ukraine to map out the legal problems in daily life. Acknowledging that micro, small and medium enterprises (mSMEs) are the backbone of the economy, in 2020, we partnered with The Centre for Law and Democracy (CEDEM) to explore the legal challenges that mSMEs face.

Our objective is to understand how mSMEs access justice. Hence, the main questions this report aims to answer are:

  • Which legal problems do the mSMEs face?
  • What is the impact of legal problems on the mSMEs?
  • What do they do to resolve the legal problems?
  • How do the mSMEs assess the fairness of the formal and informal justice processes?
  • To what extent are the legal problems resolved and which outcomes do the mSMEs obtain from justice processes?
  • How is the Covid-19 crisis affecting legal challenges experienced by the mSMEs?

This report is an evolving story. The data is displayed interactively. We show, rather than tell. The readers are invited to go beyond the text, to formulate their own questions, and look for answers and solutions. HiiL and CEDEM contribute evidence and views to the discussion about how best to support the Ukrainian mSMEs. We will be happy to continue the dialogue with new data, insights and solutions.

This project was funded by Pravo-Justice, an European Union project.

Addressing the legal needs of mSMEs is crucial

mSMEs play a critical role in the Ukrainian economy. There are more than 1.5 million mSMEs in Ukraine, including micro-enterprises (0-9 employees), small enterprises (10-49 employees) and medium enterprises (50-250 employees). mSMEs employ 61% of the persons employed in business and constitute 99% of the country’s enterprises. Together, they contribute to 20% of the country’s GDP. Apart from mSMEs, Ukraine also has a thriving start-up ecosystem. Kyiv, the country’s capital, ranks 32nd in the world and first in emerging Europe for having the best ecosystem for start-ups.

State owned banks make applying for credit for small businesses and start-ups difficult.

Owner of an agricultural enterprise

Much has been said about the business climate in which mSMEs in Ukraine operate. Ukraine is progressing in the Doing Business index. At the same time, concerns have been raised about the legal and regulatory framework, complicated administration of taxes, limited access to finance, price inflation, political instability and so on. In contrast, very little is known about the legal needs of mSMEs in Ukraine.

Our methodology

A mixed methods approach to assess the legal needs of mSMEs

The research methodology consists of three parts: desk research, qualitative interviews, and quantitative survey. CEDEM and HiiL conducted a thorough desk research to understand the political, social, and economic environment in which mSMEs operate, followed by collection of qualitative and quantitative data. A Ukrainian company, InfoSapiens, gathered the data in May-June 2020. The evidence presented in this report is based on in-depth interviews with 24 mSMEs and a survey with a non-systematic random sample of 800 representatives of mSMEs from all regions of Ukraine except the temporarily occupied territories. We spoke to owners, directors or other individuals who have a role in legal affairs of mSMEs.

The methodology of the survey aims to understand justice from the perspective of the people who embody the mSMEs. We asked about the complete journeys to justice in the past 2 years, from when a problem was experienced to its resolution. Our concept of justice journeys includes formal, informal and hybrid processes.

The methodology quantifies justice journeys by capturing people’s perceptions of the process, the outcomes, and the cost of the journeys. Previous studies explore the legal needs of SMEs in various countries (see UK, Netherlands, Australia, Poland). The novelty of our approach is that we look deeper into the justice journeys. The entrepreneurs reflected in detail over the fairness of the processes, outcomes and costs, of the justice needs. This data and knowledge intends to help justice workers, innovators and policy makers to formulate actionable solutions for the justice needs of SMEs.

As a consequence, most likely the reported problems over-represent the most impactful problems and under-represent less impactful problems.

A word of caution about the data is in order. Upcoming chapters will show that the percentage of mSMEs who report experiencing a legal problem is low. Possible explanations for this are:

  • The aforementioned high threshold of impact – only very serious legal problems have been identified.
  • It is a common practice among representatives of mSMEs to avoid discussing legal problems with strangers, especially if they harbour doubts about the confidentiality of the conversation.
  • If the mSMEs have broken the law, and consequently faced legal problems, they are less likely to reveal that.
  • mSMEs active in the informal sector have not been included in the sample.
  • mSMEs may perceive some legal issues being “a part of the deal” or an operational routine when running a business. As a result, they may under-report their legal problems.

The outbreak of Covid-19 also posed a few limitations to the methodology. First, a telephone survey had to be conducted due to restrictions on the movement of people. Second, enterprises that were most affected by the lockdown, such as restaurants and cafes, are underrepresented in the survey.

Limitations of the Methodology

Disputes with trade partners

issues that arise when mSMEs deal with business partners, suppliers and customers. For example, the supplier does not deliver purchased materials on time, client is not paying invoices, disputes with a co-owner of the company.

Disputes over business premises

issues with an office, building or land that is essential to the business. For example, an agricultural company can't register a land plot to build a storage facility.


issues like falsification of documents, theft of personal information or illegal schemes for hostile takeovers. For example, a raider counterfeited a judicial decision to illegally take over business assets.


disputes with tax authorities, difficulties with proper calculation, administration, payment, and remuneration of taxes or duties. For example, an exporting grain company is unable to rightfully receive the remuneration of the VAT.

Regulatory compliance

hardships related to activities that are unregulated or over-regulated, create uncertainty or difficulties in the business. For example, a construction company is struggling to put into operation a building because of a new decision of the local authority that conflicts with other legislation.

Disputes with employees

issues that arise regarding, during, or related to the people working for a company. For example, a hotel can't follow all the procedures of dismissing the hostess because the person is not showing up and does not respond to communication.

Enforcement problems

issues with the ability of the company to enact or restore their right where there is a clear legal basis for it. For example, a company cannot obtain the payment for the supplied batch of goods despite having a judicial decision against the debtor.

Intellectual property

issues that are related to copyrights, trademarks and other intellectual property. For example, a producer of the cloth finds out that somebody else is using their logo and name to manufacture and sell t-shirts despite the fact that the producer has a trademark for the logo and the trade name.


all issues that do not fall under the above categories.

To whom did we talk

A diverse group of mSMEs