Justice for all, the report of the Task Force on Justice
This article is an overview of a comprehensive report analysing global access to justice and its repercussions in society that move past the obvious distress suffered by citizens who cannot claim their legal rights. The data in the report shows that injustice may trigger severe political upheaval and violence, and tackling it at its incipience would lead to more prosperous communities.
The Task Force on Justice is an initiative of the Pathfinders for Peaceful, Just and Inclusive Societies – a multi-stakeholder partnership that brings together UN member states, international organisations, civil society, and the private sector to accelerate delivery of the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) targets for peace, justice and inclusion. Their ‘Justice for All’ report provides a first estimate of the global justice gap and argues for a global shift from a model providing justice for the view to one that delivers improvements in justice for all. For a summarised version, have a look at The Network’s overview.
- The Justice Gap - more than 5 billion people are deprived of justice
- Injustice is costly for people and communities – people may suffer a direct loss or mental distress
- These costs weigh on societies and economies – injustice increases the risk of political instability and violent conflict
- There are widespread benefits to investing in justice: reduced risk of conflict and instability, increased capacity to prevent and solve everyday justice problems and greater opportunities for growth and prosperity
Justice reforms have often focused on institutions, yet The Task Force introduces a different approach where people are at the centre of justice system and justice at the heart of sustainable economic and human development.
The report introduces the concept of ‘global justice gap’. Data show that more than 5 billion people are deprived of justice – in a world of 7.7 billion, a very significant amount of the population cannot properly access to justice. Some are actively prevented from access, by living under authoritarian regimes or in a stateless capacity, and most either are unaware of their legal rights’ infringement or they fail in their attempts to fight for them.
The report outlines that the expenses that arise out of an unjust system go beyond human rights violations. Governments tend to focus on economic growth, especially following the Global Economic Crisis, but injustice can be the missing link in national development strategies. Tunisia was considered a prosperous economy, but systemic injustices in day to day life led Mohamed Bouazizi to set himself on fire and kick-started The Arab Spring, a series of violent protests in North Africa. The report shows that not only is injustice costly for people and communities who may suffer direct financial loss through the process of exercising their legal rights and/or mental health issues as a result of prolonged violence, but also on societies and economies. As The Arab Spring example shows, violence deters investment and growth. Following this train of thought, if governments focused more on effective judicial reforms they would bring about the economic growth that they are fighting for. The women’s movement has campaigned for rights and has convincingly demonstrated the economic and social benefits that result from providing women with equal access to opportunities and the report suggests that the case for justice ought to combine similar normative and practical elements.
At a national level
- Resolve the justice problems that matter most to people: understand justice problems through regular surveys; recognize, finance, and protect justice defenders; provide access to people-centred justice services; use cost-effective alternatives to help people resolve disputes and gain redress.
- Prevent justice problems and create opportunities for people to participate fully in their societies and economies: implement multi-sectoral prevention strategies; increase independence, combat corruption, and ensure independent oversight; tackle structural injustices, provide universal access to legal documents, and help people make better agreements; strengthen laws and regulations that reduce the risks of violence and the number of disputes.
- Invest in justice systems and institutions that work for people and that are equipped to respond to their need for justice: provide open access to justice data; create a supportive regulatory environment for innovation; develop a national roadmap for financing justice for all; increase representation in the justice system and implement new governance models.
On an international level
- Support national implementation: Convene pathfinder countries, register voluntary commitments to implement Sustainable Development Goals (SDG16.3), and help governments develop credible, realistic, and funded strategies to implement these commitments.
- Increase justice leadership: Hold a biennial meeting of Ministers of Justice, Attorneys General, and other justice leaders as a platform for countries to share experiences, explore recommendations, and strengthen cooperation for justice.
- Measure progress: Agree a new SDG16.3 indicator to measure progress on civil justice, supplementing existing criminal justice indicators, with voluntary national piloting ahead of its integration into the global indicator framework.
- Intensify cooperation: Form an alliance of international and regional justice partners to provide more coherent support for justice for all, and a funders collaborative to increase the proportion of international finance that flows to the justice sector.
- Build the movement: Amplify demand for change through global, national, and local movements that campaign for justice for all.
The report recommends that in order to solve justice problems, people should be empowered in order to better act when a legal need arises. For that to happen, they must be able to understand the law and legal aid investments should be readily available in order to further facilitate that. It is also argued that the system should move away from contentious litigation and seek alternative pathways to justice (such as mediation) that are faster, more affordable and less confrontational.
Another way to ensure justice for all is to prevent injustice from the beginning. The global justice systems function as ‘ambulances’ that come to fix a problem when it has already reached a point of no return. For vulnerable communities, a prolonged legal issue can have disastrous repercussions. Justice actors must see how to “strategize beyond an immediate firefighting approach to individual cases” because justice is not only about individuals, but about communities. If the legal system is so set up that it tackles the root causes of injustice and uses the law to reduce the risk for unfairness, lesser hurdles will have to be faced further down the line.
The report stresses the importance of a multidisciplinary approach in order to reform justice, making use of grassroots justice defenders as well as high-ranking independent judges. Government policies should also target unfairness, which in 1st world countries has led to a growth in policies banning physical punishment of children and domestic violence. If national laws are systemically unfair, it makes it nearly impossible for citizens to fight said unfairness.
On a more positive note, the past years have recorded a global momentum for justice. ‘Justice’ was Merriam-Webster online dictionary’s word of the year in 2018 as a result of ever growing global interest. The report recommends that, at domestic level, governments should resolve the justice problems that matter most to people, work on preventing justice problems and creating opportunities for people to participate fully in their societies and economies as well as investing in systems and institutions that are actually equipped to respond to people’s need for justice. On an international level, countries are strongly encouraged to intensify their cooperation and revitalize their partnerships for justice. Education and healthcare used to be the preserve of elites, but are now fundamental goals for all of society and justice should follow the same transformation.