Justice governance culture ‘stifling innovation’, finds report

By on 13/02/2019 | Updated on 24/09/2020
Scales of justice are tipped against billions of people, according to report (Image courtesy: James Cridland/Flickr).

Governments should open up the design and administration of their justice systems to people outside the legal professions in order to foster innovation, according to a report by a United Nations-sponsored body.

The recommendation is included in a report published by the Innovation Working Group of the Task Force on Justice, an initiative of the Pathfinders for Peaceful, Just and Inclusive Societies – one of a number of bodies created to pursue the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

Currently, those responsible for running justice systems are almost exclusively legal practitioners and lawyers, the report says. But “in the health sector, doctors do not exclusively run ministries of health, hospitals, and supervisory bodies,” it notes. “The exclusivity of lawyers is unparalleled and contributes to an inward-looking sector that does not innovate.

“This ‘guild’-like system is determined by rules and a culture that make it hugely difficult to participate if you are not from that closed group.”

Closed shop

Lawyers’ control of systems of justice stifles innovation, keeps out technology, complicates informal justice in communities, and prevents evidence-based conflict resolution, the report argues.

“The doors through which game-changers from the outside have to pass are heavily guarded by bar associations and courts who apply early 20th century rules to 21st century technologies, firms, start-ups and online supported procedures,” it says.

Justice ministries across the world spend their budgets almost exclusively on organisations in which lawyers traditionally work, such as courts, prosecution authorities and legal aid organisations, the authors note. But this leads to a highly legalistic approach to delivering justice, when in many cases other forms of dispute resolution or redress may be more appropriate.

Gaps in the system

The report identifies three groups facing a “justice gap” due to problems with legal systems.

The first group, of around 244 million people, experience extreme conditions of injustice in countries where insecurity is very high and the rule of law is hardly present.

Secondly, 1.5 billion people are unable to get redress when they are the victims of crime or involved in a dispute.

A third group of 4.4 billion people lack legal identity or employment, family or property documents, meaning they are unable to access the protection of the law, the report says.

“Justice systems are disconnected from the real nature of the problems people face,” it argues. “They are not delivering the fairness people need and ask for.

“Processes are complex, costly, inaccessible, and often a tool for the powerful more than a protector of the vulnerable.”

Alternative solutions

The report lists a series of new technologies and services that are being introduced around the world, and argues that these could help close the justice gap. “They do that in an open, interdisciplinary way, not restrained by old models of delivering justice,” it comments. “This is a bottom-up movement. It is a response to the fact that the lawyers and courts are not always delivering what is needed.”

For example, “accessible justice helpers” are used in some parts of the world, providing the “equivalent of neighbourhood nurses, walk in clinics, general practitioners, and social workers in the field of public health,” according to the report.

In the United Kingdom, the legal services sector has been opened up through a new regulatory model that fosters innovation and accessibility, it notes. “By shifting from a focus on regulating people – the lawyers who historically have provided legal services – to regulating services which could be provided by a host of innovative people and businesses, the UK regulatory approach has the flexibility to accommodate new models,” the report concludes.

Justice ministers or chief justices should drive the use of new technology to open up judicial systems, the report says. As an example, it points to Argentina’s Open Justice platform, which provides open data on legal outcomes through a public online platform.

“Journalists, researchers, activists and educators are using the portal as a primary and official source of dependable data,” the report says. “The legal community is using it to explore and analyse specific aspects of their practice.”

The Task Force on Justice is a group of UN member states, international organisations, global partnerships and civil society networks.

About Colin Marrs

Colin is a journalist and editor with long experience in the government and built environment sectors. He cut his teeth in local newspaper journalism before moving to Inside Housing in 1999. He has worked in a variety of roles for built environment titles including Planning, Regeneration & Renewal and Property Week. After a spell at advertising industry bible Campaign magazine, he became a freelancer in 2010. Since then he has edited PublicTechnology.net, local government finance publication Room151.co.uk and contributed news and features to Civil Service World, Architects’ Journal, Social Housing, management titles and written white papers for major corporate and public sector clients.

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