Data-driven Insights on Accessing Justice
[Written on March 17, 2014] A few months ago I finally got around to watching the Chinese artist and political activist, Ai Wei Wei’s documentary, Never Sorry. In it, the brief remarks by one of his colleagues stuck with me: “In China, people may not care about freedoms, but they do care about injustice.”
The post-2015 Millennium Development Goal (MDG) discussion is well underway (Guardian podcast). In my universe, this means a lot of energy behind advocating for “better governance” to be front and center on this agenda. While I support this work, I also share concerns of many who do not think governance should be a standalone MDG because for one, it is tremendously difficult to measure as an inherently cross-cutting issue.
One goal that I feel is concrete and worth committing to, where there is also great room for improvement and it feeds into the broader goal of better governance, is the aim to enhance access to justice.
Take a look at George Soros, Amartya Sen and others speaking on this issue (above), from which I have derived much inspiration for my thoughts below.
To inform my understanding about problems of accessing justice, I took a moment to dissect the 2014 World Justice Project’s Rule of Law Index. In it I found that access to, timeliness in and effectiveness of civil justice are all in the poorest ranking indicators when averaged across countries measured. All three indicators came to less than .5 out of 1, accompanying another 10 indicators (out of 47) that rank at this level.
I was very excited to look through this data because there are so many insights to be had from it. The following are my first couple of takeaways that I am presenting to help push the conversation and action around issues of justice and law enforcement forward.
- Of the 3 civil justice indicators that ranked poorly, the slowness of the system stood out as the most approachable. For example, one could start with an assessment of where delays arise in this justice process. Questions including the following should be asked: Are records difficult to manage and keep in order? Are resources scarce including judges, lawyers, courts? Existing methods to grappling with these issues would then need to be considered: for instance, a digitized records management system, capacity building programs for legal experts, and greater incentives for legal experts to work in under-resourced courts.
- While WJP separated “Open Government” indicators from those mapped to Civil Justice, the pillars of transparency, accountability and participation cut across categories. In this way, one can filter the data by country and understand open government priorities as related to issues of justice. I was most curious to see where the newest and upcoming members of the Open Government Partnership (OGP) were weak in their rule of law. The data proved useful in determining for example that in Australia, an upcoming OGP member country, access to and affording civil justice is nearly dead last. In Serbia, effectively enforced civil justice is also in the lowest batch of indicators.
Over the past few years the open government community has rallied behind making public service delivery more accountable, budgets more transparent and parliaments more open. Perhaps it is time for us to join forces to battle poor judicial accountability, an area of governance that remains overlooked.