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Justice Innovation Labs for sustainable solutions Community Justice Centers in Ethiopia

Community Justice Centers in Ethiopia

Legal problems in Ethiopia

Legal problems form a part of everyday life in Ethiopia. Every year, people in Ethiopia deal with approximately 7.4 million legal problems [1]. 55% of these problems remain unresolved. Legal problems affect the lives of Ethiopians in diverse and impactful ways. Loss of income and loss of time are the most frequently reported consequences of legal problems, followed by stress-related illnesses. Disputes related to land, neighbours, family, money, employment, domestic violence and crime are the most common legal problems faced by people in Ethiopia.

The Justice Innovation lab

During a series of stakeholder dialogues, informed by the findings from the 2020 Justice Needs and Satisfaction survey, Ethiopia’s justice leaders recognised land and family as two of the most frequent and pressing justice problems in the country.  To resolve those problems, they decided to develop community justice as a service delivery model. Those priorities formed the foundations of the Justice Innovation Lab (JIL) in Ethiopia, which ran from November 2023 until April 2024. In the Lab, a diverse group of stakeholders including government representatives, members of the judiciary, academics, civil society organisations and actual justice users came together to find a solution to the following design challenge:

“How might we increase access to justice for people in Ethiopia by scaling and improving justice delivery models that work effectively at the community level?”

Stakeholders explored the current justice journey taken by justice users as they try to solve their land and family justice problems and identified the corresponding needs, challenges and opportunities (scoping). They formulated ideas around potential pathways or solutions for these justice problems (ideation). Ultimately, they co-designed a solution in the form of community justice centres, with accompanying financial and governance models for sustainable implementation (solution design and roadmap). The development of the financial model is supported by Social Finance.

Design of the solution

The Community Justice Center (CJC) model serves as the first point of contact for those in Ethiopia seeking to prevent or resolve their most common and impactful land and family justice problems in an accessible, affordable and evidence-based manner. With premises located centrally in every Woreda (district) and Community Justice Representatives deployed in the Kebeles (wards), the CJC model provides people in Ethiopia effective access to high-quality and affordable tailored information, advice and referral services. At the same time, community judges situated at the kebele level mediate disputes based on traditional norms and best practices.

Designed as a complementary service, the CJC model builds upon the legitimacy and effectiveness of existing informal justice providers that already operate in the communities. By improving the existing capacities of informal justice providers and facilitating optimal integration with the formal justice sector, the CJC model aims to create a scalable delivery model that can be replicated across all Woredas in Ethiopia. 

Reflections of participants