Despite the best intentions, the formal justice system is unable to keep pace with the growing demand for user-friendly justice. ‘Business as usual’ approaches to access to justice and the focus on the number and quality of courts, lawyers, prosecutors, and police have not closed the access to justice gap. When looking at the data on how many people are still waiting for resolutions, the current approaches to improvement are unlikely to start delivering justice on the needed scale. One of the solutions to addressing the justice gap is with justice leaders who can support an enabling environment for innovative services that deliver fast and legitimate solutions for people, as they need them.
Addressing the justice gap requires a strong and effective justice sector that puts people at the centre and offers solutions that are affordable, easy to access, effective and user-friendly. The justice sector has many bottlenecks in implementing improvements systematically. Many of these bottlenecks relate to laws/regulations, the traditional legal system roles, the financial arrangements in the justice sector, and procurement systems which make it difficult to implement innovations. The political economy of the sector and the day-to-day political environment set the framework. Finding ways around the bottlenecks requires political will, empowered coalitions and specific knowledge and skills.
Tackling these bottlenecks from just one perspective has a limited impact. Faint signals of change in one area do not automatically lead to improvement elsewhere. Many professionals across the justice sector have experienced it when working on initiatives across organisations or departments: maybe you have had to manage the expectations, juggle many responsibilities, struggled to set agendas, secure funding or implement effectively when faced with other competing priorities. It is hard to lead change alone and possible solutions often remain incomplete if implemented without synergies across the sector.
The problem is best tackled by pooling knowledge, experience and resources by bringing together people who have the leadership oversight and capacity to direct change across the vastness of the system. Simply put, an important first step to begin tackling this problem requires the formation of a committed coalition of drivers of change. Often academics and leading judges are involved in similar access to justice task forces. Bar associations may form groups to investigate the innovation of legal services. NGOs may play a role as well. More often, such groups can be convened under the auspices of a ministry of justice, chief justice, attorney general, or chief prosecutor.
Often the ownership of the quality of justice is unclear and distributed among several institutions, each working independently. Coalitions can form to improve synergy. Successful justice systems encompass multiple coordinated avenues to resolve disputes. Encouraging the shift from disjointed action towards more intentional coordination can have a ripple effect across the justice system. Working as one unit, a coalition of leaders can begin to craft a shared vision which prioritises the outcomes that people need. With a strong commitment and vision in mind, it is possible to find common ground on what needs to change and to think about how to do so in a coherent way.
From this point, they carefully identify a unifying vision and commit to mobilising the necessary actions to ensure that it is realised. Such actions can involve allocating budgetary resources, reviewing policies and procedures and initiating regulatory sandboxes. The vision of the coalition, therefore, becomes the guiding principle to inform and validate what follows. Doing all of this in a collaborative, evidence-based manner with leaders and justice users alike harnesses the support of those across the ecosystem and strengthens the possibility of wide-stretching results.
For the past two years in Nigeria, a national body of elders, named the Core Convening Group, has acted in the manner of such a coalition. This group is multidisciplinary in its composition, with justice leaders from the Office of the Vice President of Nigeria, the Ministry of Justice, the Bar Association, the Police and civil society represented. They provide guidance and strategic direction to processes at both the federal and state level which seek to enable the transformation towards people-centred approaches.
In a project led by HiiL and Reos Partners, 30 stakeholders from the criminal justice system in The Hague started a dialogue to jointly formulate an innovation strategy for the criminal justice system. Watch this video to learn about their experience.