Justice Needs in Burkina Faso

Justice Needs in Burkina Faso:
view from a small sample

Introduction

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.

01 

Demographics

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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02 

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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Seriousness

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.

Resolved

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.

Completely
Partially
On-going
Abandoned
Kenya
36%
10%
26%
28%
Mali
38%
11%
33%
17%
Morocco
27%
10%
34%
28%
Nigeria
45%
16%
24%
15%
Uganda
33%
13%
21%
33%

Fairness

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.

03 

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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04 

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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05 

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.

Authors

Authors

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
The Netherlands

Tel: +31 70 762 0700
E-mail: info@hiil.org
www.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. 

0
Thought leaders participated, coming from:
*hover for details
  • Uganda (22%)
  • Bulgaria (16%)
  • The Netherlands (13%)
  • Syria (11%)
  • Other (38%)
0%
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.

01 

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.

Meeting

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.

Respecting

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.

Restoring

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.

02 

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.

03 

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.”

04 

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.

Introduction

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
WHICH LEGAL PROBLEMS DID WE MEASURE IN THE SURVEY?

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.

Fraud

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.

Tax

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.

Other

all issues that do not fall under the above categories.

To whom did we talk

A diverse group of mSMEs

Sector

Size
Regions
Legal Service
Finances

Legal problems that mSMEs deal with

Disputes with partners, fraud, disputes about business premises

Back when we had a ten year land lease agreement, we were confident about investing in the business. But now officials have terminated the agreement because they have other plans for the land. Dozens of businesses have been shut down in this manner.

Representative of a company providing photo services

1.6  The average number of problems mSMEs encountered in the past 2 years

16% of mSMEs in Ukraine report having experienced a legal problem in the past two years.

The most common problems are related to disputes with suppliers and clients, corporate fraud (raiding), or business premises. Trade problems mostly concern an insolvent supplier or client, or disputes over contracts. Fraud cases usually involve theft of company property. Problems with business premises often involve troubles with land acquisition, registration, transfer, lease, or tenure.

Here, we had asked the mSMEs to tell us about all their legal problems. In the next stage, we asked the respondents to tell us more about the problem which in their opinion was most impactful.

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One in four of the mSMEs that have experienced legal problems say their most serious problem is a trade problem.

Problems experienced by mSMEs differ according to the size of the company. The most common problem of the micro companies (1 employee) is related to business premises. Micro companies also experience problems with regulatory compliance more often than other mSMEs.

Moreover, problems encountered by businesses vary across industries. mSMEs operating in information technology, manufacturing or construction experience trade partner-related problems more frequently than the others. Businesses in wholesale report experiencing fraud relatively more often than other sectors. Agricultural companies experience problems with business premises, more so than any other problem.

mSMEs tackle ‘raids’

Enterprises in Ukraine encounter a peculiar problem- raiding. It refers to illegal seizure of property or equipment owned by a business. Interviews with respondents revealed that raiding is initiated by corrupt officials, competitors, business partners during disputes or by opportunistic land-owners. In the below paragraphs, two of the interviewed entrepreneurs share incidents of raids experienced by them that had the potential to jeopardise their claim and possession of their property.

My competitor plotted a raid against my enterprise. He came with a court decision, officials from the prosecutor's office, cars and movers. It was an organised event. They tried to grab hold of our gym equipment. The court order gave rights to the investigator to inspect the equipment and do something with it at his own discretion. So, they wanted to take it to a safe custody until everything was settled. But I didn’t know where this safe custody was or what this would lead to. I mean, if the equipment is taken away, then it’s a wild goose chase. So I physically stopped them from taking the equipment.

Owner of a sports club

In Ukraine, a person can register ownership of an object or part of an object that is currently owned by someone else. Such a problem occurs with plants that were built before Ukraine gained independence and went bankrupt during the crisis of the Soviet Union. I bought such a property in early 2000. But after my business became successful, someone came forward to dispute the ownership right of the property using forged documents. He pulled out some document from the 50's that was not transferred to me and claimed 1 million dollars to settle the problem. That’s absurd!

Owner of a company that produces ceramic products

Impact

Legal problems have a significant impact and a considerable price tag for the mSMEs

To register a plot which is on the cadastral map costs 200 hryvnia usually. But because my plot was not on the cadastral plan, I had to prepare technical documentation, which cost me between 1.5-3 thousand hryvnia. This was expensive and time consuming.

Owner of an agricultural enterprise

1.8 million UAH  The average number of Ukrainian hryvnia that companies lose because of one legal problem

In 88% of the cases, legal problems negatively affect the viability of the business. On average, one legal problem causes 1.7 negative consequences. The most common consequence of legal problems for all mSMEs is loss of market share, followed by loss of clients. While rare, 3% report bankruptcy as a consequence, indicating that legal problems cause not only temporary, but also permanent financial strain.

 

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Thirty eight percent of mSMEs which report a problem, say that the most serious problem caused a considerable negative impact on the company’s finances. On a scale of 1(trivial) to 10 (very severe), on average mSMEs attribute the score 7 when assessing the severity of their legal problems. This is another indication of the high impact that legal problems have on the mSMEs.

Resolving legal problems

Outcomes and processes

Despite the efforts, the legal problems of most mSMEs remain unresolved

mSMEs in Ukraine actively seek solutions but find it hard to effectively resolve their legal issues. Only one in four legal problems has been assessed as resolved. Almost half of the reported problems are in a process of resolution.

This means that problem resolution is slow or ineffective, and continues to concern owners and directors.

Another quarter of the problems are deemed to be unresolved despite the pledged efforts. mSMEs try to negotiate, involve third parties and public institutions but rarely manage to reach a fair solution. Filing complaints with justice or administrative institutions often do not resolve the problem.

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mSMEs need interventions that resolve legal problems

Our actions (to solve a problem) do not have a clear result. What worked in one case may not work in another.

Representative of a company producing metal equipment

As mentioned above, a quarter of the existing problems are resolved. When a legal problem is resolved, the mSMEs are very likely to say that the resolution fixes the underlying problem and allows the company to move ahead. This is a bright spot of justice for the mSMEs in Ukraine.

By contrast, the pending (unresolved and still in process of resolution) problems reveal a different picture in terms of outcomes. Rarely are all parts of the problem resolved when the resolution is ongoing. This indicates the importance of interventions that not only deal with the problems, but resolve them in a definitive way. There is also a good opportunity to further study the success of mSME justice in Ukraine and scale up the best practices.

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mSMEs negotiate first, involve lawyers next

To resolve existing legal problems, mSMEs mostly negotiate directly with the other party in the dispute. Particularly, negotiation is used when the company is in a disagreement with a trade partner or in a dispute over the company premises.

Lawyers are usually involved when dealing with regulatory compliance or diverse issues that emerge around company registration, legal status, and ownership.

Complaints to administrative authorities or to judicial bodies are more often filed in situations of fraud (raidership) and difficulties with enforcement of contracts and previous decisions.

Although mentioned in the qualitative interviews, mSMEs rarely resolvе their legal problems by simply transferring money. On face value, corruption is not a sizable problem. However, we acknowledge that a survey methodology, particularly the administration of the questionnaire via telephone interviews, is not a suitable method for exploring corruption. In the qualitative interviews, the respondents are more outspoken about the instances of corruption.

Negotiations are well-intended but hardly effective

The supplier has not refunded my money. I am negotiating with him via common acquaintances. But I am not satisfied with the outcome. The supplier makes promises but does not fulfil them.

Director of a company engaged in sale of building materials

When dealing with their most serious legal problems, most companies approach the other party in the dispute. Roughly half manage to make contact, the other half of the mSMEs with problems struggle to engage the other party in a negotiation (See chart 9).

A personal meeting is the preferred mode of communication. Sending letters, calling, and messages are also popular means of communication. Very few mSMEs report that there was a third party whom they could rely on to make contact with the other party.

The mSMEs who manage to make contact with the opponent in the dispute do not experience cooperative behavior. Almost 80% say that in the negotiation the other party did not consider their arguments (did not listen to their side of the story). Seventy-three percent say that the other party was not willing to compromise in its position. In almost 90% of the cases of negotiation, the other party did not contribute efforts towards reaching a solution.

Dispute resolution treatments - A mix of approaches

Providing information and advice is the treatment that third parties most often practice. They seldom mediate between the disputing parties. This, to a certain extent, explains why many legal problems remain unresolved. This finding is an important cue for justice innovators who want to provide services that address unmet needs of mSMEs.

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Glass half-full or half-empty? Half of the problems find fair resolution; half are resolved unfairly

How fair are the outcomes of the legal problems? The respondents are almost equally split in their assessments.

About one third believe that the problem has been resolved in a fair manner, one third perceive the resolution as unfair and the remaining third point to a resolution which is neither fair nor unfair (See Chart 10).

Legal problems with employees and trade partners are more often seen as fairly resolved. On the other hand, a large proportion of frauds as well as disputes over the company’s premises is perceived as unfairly resolved.

The process of problem resolution needs to be more user-friendly

We asked the mSMEs to reflect on 3 dimensions of the quality of the procedures used. Namely, we measured voice, the neutrality of the third party, and whether the process was explained. On all three dimensions, the respondents gave scores around or below the middle of the point (point 3 on a scale from 1 to 5). The low score strongly indicates that a lot can be done to improve access to justice for mSMEs in Ukraine. Opportunities to participate in the process need to be enhanced.

The processes organised by a third party should convince the disputants that the decision-makers are objective and unbiased. Lastly, the procedures should be better explained.

Compared to other formal or informal dispute resolution processes, court procedures receive slightly better results from the mSMEs. The take-away is that cheaper and faster processes can borrow from the strong sides of adjudication procedures and deliver justice which is fair but also affordable and fast.

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mSMEs are dissatisfied with the justice outcomes

Similar to the quality of the process, we asked mSMEs about the quality of the outcomes of dispute resolution. The results are similar to the assessment of quality of the processes.

mSMEs who went through the process of dispute resolution are dissatisfied with the final result of dispute resolution. Outcomes do not compensate for financial loss and are not well enforced. Enforceability deserves further research and explanation.

Negotiations and involvement of experts are voluntary processes that take place in the shadow of the law.

Such mechanisms are based on the expectation of voluntary compliance and are therefore less often implemented (enforced) in real life. What is concerning is that acts of adjudication as well as administrative decisions are also not enforced properly. The shadow of the law itself is not very compelling.

A good outcome of a justice process is a resolution which is explained in a comprehensible fashion to the disputing parties. The dissatisfaction of mSMEs with the explanation of the results evokes the need to re-think and re-design the available dispute resolution processes so that the parties clearly understand the factual and legal basis of the decision.

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Legal information and advice

Practical and linked to internet

The company’s technical director monitors legislation via the internet and press.

CEO of a machinery manufacturing
company

What sort of legal information do mSMEs receive when dealing with a legal problem? Advice is preferred to information. Generally, practical advice about concrete steps to resolve the issue or how to deal with the other party is used. More abstract information about rights and obligations is used less often.

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We asked all the mSMEs, regardless of whether they had experienced a legal problem or not, what sources of legal information they used. Most common of all is the internet. mSMEs of various sizes use the internet to understand how to respond to legal problems. This is a promising springboard for tech-focused justice innovators.

Covid-19 pandemic

mSMEs expect certain set of problems to increase

OECD in its recent report highlights the impact of Covid-19 on mSMEs worldwide. It estimates that more than half of mSMEs world-wide suffer a fall in revenue and one third of the mSMEs anticipate being out of business without external assistance. In a study conducted by HiiL, thought leaders based in 20 countries across the world also predict that mSMEs are more likely to go bankrupt, and likely to face disputes with employees and suppliers as a result of the pandemic. They predicted an increase in disputes related to repayment of debt and regulatory compliance as well

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Majority of the mSMEs in the survey expect the number of disputes they experience to remain the same, despite the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic. This finding can be explained by the fact that at the time of conducting the survey, mSMEs most severely affected by the pandemic were shut, and were therefore under-represented in the survey. Another possible explanation might be that the survey was conducted after the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic in the Ukraine. It could be that with hindsight the mSMEs were more buoyant about their capabilities for dealing with legal problems.

mSMEs 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 followed by their own insolvency.

mSMEs in certain sectors are more affected by the pandemic than the rest. mSMEs in the hotel and restaurant industry emerge as most affected, followed by mSMEs in finance and those providing social and personal services.

A new way to solve legal problems is gaining momentum

Justice innovations

What are the implications of this explorative research? The survey data shows that a small percentage(16%) of mSMEs in Ukraine encounter very significant legal problems and need more and better resolutions urgently. More research is needed to investigate whether other mSMEs also have justice problems that impact their businesses significantly. The research also suggests more courts, lawyers and administrative offices will not bridge the gap. The mSMEs struggled to resolve issues, even when they used such interventions.

The results of this survey suggest that justice services for mSMEs in Ukraine need to be further developed. Within the scope of this research project, we did not investigate in depth how the justice system can respond to their needs. We note, however, a number of promising developments that can contribute to relieving the needs of mSMEs that suffer most from injustices.

Innovative approaches in this direction are being developed both by private sector start-ups and by the government. The Ministry of Digital Transformation is playing a key role in this.

Where do mSMEs need innovation? The evidence shows that the greatest needs are in disputes between trade partners, protecting against fraud and raiding, as well as disputes around renting of premises.

It should be mentioned that the government created a task force and improved some procedures to reduce raiding. For example, there is now an option to submit a claim to the Anti-raiding committee electronically through a simple form, as opposed to hiring a lawyer to draft and send a paper complaint. But this movement slowed down as the minister who pushed the anti-raiding reforms quit and it remains to be seen whether victims of raiding will benefit from these reforms.

According to the data, mSMEs mostly need assistance with negotiating and problem solving, with recourse to a neutral authority to enforce a solution if the other party does not cooperate. The data suggests these are promising areas for innovation:
  • Solutions that conclusively resolve legal problems
  • Guided procedures that assist the parties in business disputes to meet, talk, negotiate, decide and implement fair solutions
  • Accessible, fair and quick online or offline procedures involving third parties who decide on the issue and help to implement the decision
  • One-stop shops for tailored advice, information and forms
  • Solutions which help public authorities to provide better services to mSMEs
One stop procedures (combining information, negotiation support, facilitation and adjudication, supported online) are now being developed in countries such as Canada, Singapore and the UAE. The OECD, the Task Force on Justice and a remote courts coalition led by Richard Susskind are supporting these initiatives with expert knowledge. Academics outline how to do dispute system design and Oxford’s Christopher Hodges explores how existing procedures can be merged into one stop shop processes. Case management software is increasingly supporting online dispute resolution options that integrate seamlessly (Modria/Tyler, Matterhorn, Resolver, VisionHall).

We would love to hear your ideas!

Please use the form below to reach out to us and tell us where do you see the potential for innovative solutions. Or even better – tell us about solutions that already deliver justice to the mSMEs.

Examples of justice innovations

Justice innovations already deliver fair outcomes in Ukraine

The startup ecosystem in general, as well as legal innovations which is a part of it, is quite vibrant in Ukraine, and it may be well placed to play a role in providing solutions for mSMES. This is a glimpse into working solutions suggested by local start-ups to help their mSMEs colleagues, and the government.

These are examples of the most prominent justice innovations in Ukraine:

  • Avodocs (Axdraft product) is software that drafts essential legal documents for startups for free. It is used by over 4,000 startups from all over the world and trusted by Amazon Web Services, Y Combinator, and Techstars.
  • PatentBot is a chatbot that allows the user to register trademarks and copyrights in a few clicks via Facebook Messenger or via the web version. The process of submitting applications takes 5-7 minutes. The chatbot is operational in Ukraine, the EU and the US.
  • Vkursi and Court on the Palm use open data provided by the government to make deep analytics on counterparts and court cases. They make data visually appealing and easy to comprehend. Opendatabot serves a similar purpose, but it works through a messenger app of the user.
  • DomJurista provides a wide range of preset consultations and documents for a variety of businesses and personal situations at an affordable price.
  • Legal Alarm provides an SOS button that connects a business owner with an attorney and tracks users’ location in extreme cases like police raids in the office or kidnapping.
  • Cryptonomica offers online identification and arbitration.
  • Diia is a big governmental project which aims to bring all state services online. mSMEs can solve a few legal problems with it. For example, they can register a limited liability company or as individual entrepreneurs, sign documents online, and apply for a license. Moreover, Diia.Business works as a one-stop shop for all sorts of support for entrepreneurs and innovators. It provides advice, gives guidelines and document templates and refers to relevant startup hubs or solutions from the private sector.
  • Electronic Court is a free online portal administered by the State Court Administration that allows individuals and mSMEs to submit claims with e-signature, manage cases and perform written communication with the court and counterparts. Videoconferencing is also available in some courts.
  • Community paralegals program, a network of advisers who have trust of the community and basic legal knowledge, connect the informal and formal justice systems. It is one of the potential game changers for local communities and can be helpful for micro and small enterprises in towns and villages.

How to encourage and scale-up justice innovations?

The examples above suggest that the ecosystem of justice innovation in Ukraine is vibrant, but also that there is still a gap between the pipeline of (government and private sector) innovations and the justice needs particular to mSMEs. So more needs to be done. The justice needs and the justice innovation environment in the Ukraine and elsewhere has been investigated before. Highlights of this analysis have been:

First, serious investment is needed to ensure that legal innovations grow into high quality, scalable service providers that can positively impact justice. So far, the private sector has taken moderate interest in justice innovation. This study, together with studies about the justice needs of individuals in Ukraine, show that there is a sizable amount of unmet justice needs. Investments in good ideas and solid business models can meet this gap.

Second, a more flexible and outcome-oriented legal framework for justice and legal services is needed. Such a framework should encourage public and private innovations that deliver justice to the mSMEs.

Third, public-private partnerships need to be undertaken to ensure that the justice journeys are user friendly. There are good examples of those already. For instance, Diia.Business portal mentioned above provides services and guidance for entrepreneurs and also references more specific requests to private sector providers who already developed required solutions. The Ministry of Digital Transformation is playing a key role in establishing the portal. It also supports HiiL’s Innovating Justice Challenge 2020. Next step? Look carefully at the needs of the mSMEs and challenge the justice innovators in courts, government agencies and the private sector to provide smart solutions.

About the authors

Authors

Dr. Martin Gramatikov, Director Measuring Justice
Armi Korhonen, Justice Sector Advisor
Dmitry Foremnyi – Justice Accelerator Head, Ukraine
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
Fluwelen Burgwal 58, 2511 CJ The Hague
P.O. Box 93033, 2509 AA The Hague
The Netherlands

Tel: +31 70 762 0700
E-mail: info@hiil.org
www.hiil.org

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About CEDEM

Centre for Democracy and Rule of Law (CEDEM) is a think-and-act tank, which has been working in the civil society sector of Ukraine since 2005 channelling its efforts for development of independent media, support of civic platforms and movements, and building a legal state in Ukraine

Centre for Democracy and Rule of Law
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Ukraine

Tel.: +380 (44) 496 05 80
E-mail: info@cedem.org.ua

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Table of Contents

Justice in the COVID-19 Crisis: What People Are Saying on Social Media

Justice in the COVID-19 Crisis:
What People Are Saying
on Social Media

Trends beyond words | Words behind trends

Justice problems on
social media

What people are saying on Facebook and Twitter during the pandemic

Throughout the COVID-19 crisis, people have been sharing their views on the justice problems happening around them on social media. In April 2020, HiiL began collecting data from Facebook and Twitter to identify trends in social media activity and find out what people around the world have been saying. Based on an analysis of hundreds of thousands of social media messages, this report aims to answer the following questions:

Most of all, this experimental project aims to explore the potential and limits of a new source of data and knowledge. Below, we explore what social media can tell us about justice.

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Our methodology

How we listened for justice problems on social media

To collect rapid, almost real-time people-centred data on justice during the COVID-19 crisis, we asked HiiL national experts in the nine countries where we have presence to identify hashtags, keywords, and phrases which people use to discuss justice problems on social media. This led to a list of country-specific keywords. The keywords were aggregated and coded into eleven justice problems categories: crime; domestic violence; medical bill disputes; financial disputes; business problems, housing disputes; disputes between neighbours; problems with accessing government benefits; and land disputes.

With the help of an external knowledge partner – GemSeek – we used the locally-validated keywords to collect data from Twitter and Facebook in South Africa, Nigeria, Lebanon, Burkina Faso, Uganda, Mali, Kenya, Ethiopia, and Tunisia. Messages were collected retrospectively from 1 January 2020 to create pre-COVID-19 data. We also gathered messages from Twitter and Facebook that contained the keywords but were not linked to the nine focus countries. This dataset is referred to as the “global dataset”.

A natural language processing algorithm was developed, trained, and applied to classify each social media message into categories. The algorithm was set to distinguish between general COVID-19 messages and messages related to justice problems. For example, somebody might say, “I lost a good job.” This is clearly a justice problem. Another person might say, “Good job with your efforts on the final exam.” This is not a justice problem.

The algorithm retained the relevant messages and removed others, which were marked as noise. The relevant messages were then classified into the aforementioned eleven justice problem categories.

After all of these steps, the dataset for the nine focus countries consisted of 587,286 messages (from January-July 2020). Of these messages, 73 percent are specific to a justice category and 27 percent are COVID-19-related. Nigeria and South Africa account for the majority of the messages, with 36 percent and 33 percent of all messages, respectively. The next countries in terms of frequency are Kenya, Uganda, and Lebanon with 14 percent, 10 percent, and 4 percent, respectively. The other countries have relatively low message counts.

A machine learning algorithm estimated the sentiment of each social media message in the country dataset. Sentiment analysis is a classification method that aims to identify the degree of feeling or emotion embedded into a text. In practice, the algorithm checks the texts for occurrences of positive, negative, and neutral words and phrases. Based on the results of this analysis, a sentiment score is generated and attached to each social media message.

The global dataset consists of over 79 million messages.

Analysing these messages produced the following visualisations, which provide global, country-level, and comparative insights into social media activity around justice problems over the past six months.

Instead of explaining the trends, we invite the readers to interact with the data, formulate their own questions, and seek answers. Along this journey, we will share some observations and interpretations.

Read more about our methodology

The global view

Crime and domestic violence concerns rise steadily. Talk of employment, financial disputes, and issues with medical bills grew at the peak of the pandemic but has since decreased.

Crime and domestic violence

Globally, talk of crime and domestic violence on social media has increased steadily since the start of the global pandemic in March. This trend is consistent with HiiL’s COVID-19 expert survey findings, which anticipated spikes in crime and domestic violence in low- and middle-income countries. In July, mentions of these problem types declined slightly. This may be due to summer re-openings that made it easier for people to access social services and receive assistance for their crime and domestic violence-related needs.

Financial, medical and
employment disputes

Mentions of medical bill disputes, financial disputes, and employment disputes also began to rise in February but peaked between March and April. Mentions of employment disputes increased noticeably between June and July. Mentions of other problem types have remained relatively stable during the COVID-19 crisis.

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Country deep dives

The peak of mentions of justice problems followed by 2 to 3 months the peak of the COVID-19 messages.

In the charts that follow, we zoom in on social media trends in nine countries where HiiL works and observe how justice problems have been talked about in those specific places.

Justice problem mentions peak in May, June and July

An interesting trend appears when we compare messages about the COVID-19 crisis and messages about justice problems. The peak of COVID-19-related messages is in March, when the pandemic became global. A lag appears when we look at messages about justice problem – they peak in May, June, and July. This trend is particularly visible in countries with large volumes of messages – South Africa, Nigeria, and Kenya.

One interpretation of this lag is that the pandemic was the root cause of many justice problems around the world. It does not take long for people to feel the justice implications of COVID-19. The big question is: how will the trends in justice problem mentions change over time? Will they subside, maintain the current levels, or increase?

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Mentions of justice problems increased in South Africa, Nigeria and Uganda

Mentions of justice problems increased dramatically in South Africa and Nigeria between the months of April and June. Justice problems were also mentioned more frequently than usual in Kenya during the same period. Between June and July, talk of justice problems in these three countries has started to decline.

In Uganda, mentions of justice problems on social media increased slightly after March but have since returned to pre-COVID-19 levels. In other countries, justice problems were not discussed more than usual on social media during the COVID-19 crisis.

Crime is the most commonly mentioned justice problem on social media in Lebanon, Mali, Tunisia, Burkina Faso, and Ethiopia. In Uganda, Kenya, and Nigeria, housing disputes are most often talked about. In South Africa, social media mentions of justice problems mostly relate to employment disputes.

In six out of the nine countries, crime and domestic violence are among the top most frequently talked about justice problems. This is consistent with the global dataset, which shows a post-COVID-19 spike in these two problem types. Financial and employment disputes, which were also talked about more after the onset of the pandemic in the global data, were also among the top five most mentioned problems in seven out of the nine focus countries.

The focus on financial and employment disputes on social media globally and in the countries where HiiL works can likely be attributed to the global economic recession that followed mass business closures and put many people out of work. Crime and domestic violence mentions are likely related to increased financial distress and strict lockdown policies in many low- and medium-income countries.

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Country view

In the following charts, we invite you to explore the social media data specific to the nine focus countries. By selecting one country or comparing two of them, you can discover which kind of justice problems people talk about most, how that has changed over the course of the COVID-19 crisis, the language people use to describe the problems they are facing, and the way they feel about them (on average).

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Comparison view

In the charts below, you can explore pairs of countries and compare how social media users talk about their justice problems during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

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Sentiment analysis

Justice problems in COVID-19 have negative connotations. Messages about crime and domestic violence are the most pessimistic.

How people talk about justice on social media

On average, the sentiment score of the messages classified as referring to a justice problem is 38. This is below the middle of the scale and indicates negative feeling. The average sentiment score of the messages classified as COVID-19-related is 45. A 10-point difference is considerable. The implication is that COVID-19 is concerning particularly when people see it in relation to (or as the cause of) a justice problem.

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Sentiment over time

Messages classified in the crime and domestic violence categories have the lowest sentiment score – 27 and 26 respectively – on the scale ranging from 0 to 100. Texts about public benefits, housing disputes, and medical bills have the highest sentiment score. On average, texts about public benefits have a sentiment score of 47. However, this score decreases steadily after March and April 2020. 

01

Findings: Global level

Mentions of crime and domestic violence rise during the pandemic. People are concerned and anxious.

The increase in global mentions of domestic violence between March and July 2020 is consistent with what we know was happening on the ground: between March and July 2020, lockdown orders caused rates of domestic violence to rise in countries around the world.

The same cannot be said for the most dramatic post-COVID-19 social media trend: the spike in crime problem mentions. Between March and July 2020, talk of crime nearly doubled while actual crime rates fell in several countries.

American criminologists attribute the COVID-19 crime decline to the reality that the majority of crimes in the US are petty offenses committed by young people in peer groups – a type of crime made more difficult by lockdown orders. Meanwhile, rates of more serious offenses are often committed privately (or remotely) by individuals – including domestic violence, serious battery, and homicide – increased between March and July 2020 or remained the same. Similar trends were observed in the UK and Australia.

The discrepancy in social media and crime data suggests that the driver of social media mentions may not be direct experience with the justice problems under study. Rather, rising social media mentions may reflect increased anxiety around crime and domestic violence during the pandemic. The low average sentiment score of 27 and 26 for messages about crime and domestic violence respectively supports the conclusion that they were motivated by negative emotions rather than neutral and objective analysis.

Increased anxiety around crime and domestic violence might be the result of authoritarian COVID-19 measures imposed by some governments, anti-police riots in countries around the world, or a more general climate of uncertainty and disorder created by the pandemic.

It might also be explained by increases in in-home media consumption, including increased engagement with news, streaming services, TV, radio, and messaging services in countries around the world. Social media use in particular has spiked globally during the pandemic. A deluge of information – as well as misinformation – about the virus’ spread and related economic and political insecurity may have triggered increased concerns around crime and domestic violence. 

The same reasoning can be applied to medical bills, financial disputes, and employment problems, which were also discussed more frequently after March 2020 but later leveled out.

02

Findings: In the nine countries where we zoomed in

Justice problems are felt after the first wave of the pandemic, especially those related to housing and employment.

At the country level, the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic coincided with a significant increase in justice problem mentions on social media in Nigeria, South Africa, Kenya, and Uganda. Beginning in April 2020, these numbers spiked dramatically in Nigeria, South Africa, and Kenya and began to decline to normal levels in Uganda. 

By contrast, the COVID-19 pandemic has not seemed to have a significant impact on the number of justice problem mentions in Ethiopia, Tunisia, Lebanon, Mali, or Burkina Faso.

Three of the countries that experienced notable increases in justice problem mentions after the onset of the pandemic in March 2020  – Nigeria, Kenya, and Uganda – also shared housing as their most frequently discussed justice problem. Meanwhile, South Africans on social media primarily talked about employment problems.

In the four countries where justice problem mentions on social media did not increase noticeably – Ethiopia, Tunisia, Lebanon, Mali, and Burkina Faso – crime problems were the most frequently discussed.

03

Findings: What social media tell us

More and more people use social media to share views, ideas, and concerns. Justice problems are an important part of the conversation.

With the growing usage of social media, there is a need for more reliable and refined methods to extract knowledge from the vast amount of data. This report is a step towards a better understanding of how people encounter justice problems in their daily life. The results are intriguing. HiiL and its partners will continue working towards evidence-based people-centered justice.

About the authors

Dr. Martin Gramatikov, Director Measuring Justice

Isabella Banks, Justice Sector Advisor

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Delivering Justice in the Covid-19 crisis

Delivering Justice in the
Covid-19 Crisis

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

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.

01

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.

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02

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).

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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. 

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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.
Problem
Scenario 1:
10% increase per 1 million
Scenario 2:
25% increase per 1 million
Employment
1,747
4,367
Family
1,518
3,794
Debt
1,322
3,306
Domestic Violence
458
1,145

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.

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03

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

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  • 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:

Catastrophe.
...
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).

04

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.

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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.

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05

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.

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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.
06

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.

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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.

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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.
07

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

08

Summary of findings and implications

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.

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