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2. Owning
people-centred justice

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

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

The impediments to taking ownership

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bringing together a task force

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Navigating a special public sector

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

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

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

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

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

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

Envisioning equal access for all

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

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

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

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

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

A mission approach to programming and execution

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

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

The mission-oriented approach for programming

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

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

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

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

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

Resourcing a people-centred justice programme

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

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

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

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

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

Phase 1: Initiating

Phase 2: Owning and scoping

Phase 3: Programming strategic interventions

Phase 4: Implementation by stakeholders supported by the task force

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

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

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

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

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

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

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