Universal Access to Basic Justice: Costing Sustainable Development Goal 16.3

Overseas Development Institute (ODI)

This paper aims to contribute to ongoing discussions about a realistic approach to delivering scaled-up equal justice for all in line with Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 16.3,1 and to support work on identifying what is needed to address the gap for the billions of people worldwide who are excluded from accessing justice and the rule of law. The paper estimates the costs of providing universal basic justice to address people’s everyday justice needs, considers its affordability, and finally proposes a viable funding option.

The fundamental importance of access to justice and the rule of law is being increasingly re-emphasised in development discussions. The creation of SDG 16.3 has helped to galvanise debate and initiatives to address the challenges of achieving equal access to justice for all, including the Task Force on Justice set up by the Pathfinders for Peaceful, Just and Inclusive Societies.2 Previous research (LDP, 2015) has suggested that the costs of providing a basic justice service are likely to be low, but that they are unaffordable for low-income countries3 – most of which cannot afford half the costs of providing universal basic services in education and health (Manuel et al., 2018). More recently, Manuel and Manuel (2018) have highlighted how donors have failed to address the financing gap for justice: their support for justice in low-income countries has been limited to a few countries only, and in the last five years donors’ overall global funding for justice has fallen by 40%.

Ahead of a global review of progress on SDG 16 at the United Nations High Level Political Forum in July 2019, the Task Force on Justice asked ODI to produce a rapid research report to further set out the scale of the challenge and to provide the first initial estimate of the financing gap faced by countries in providing access to justice. The question is – how much would it cost to ensure that people’s everyday justice needs are met and resolved in an accessible and affordable way? This builds on the previous research (LDP, 2015) which only costed the provision of basic legal advice and assistance and not other elements of basic justice.

However, this is only part of the picture: informing people of their legal rights and assisting them to exercise them is necessary but insufficient to deliver justice. A system is also needed to address and resolve legal problems, disputes, conflicts, grievances and crimes. This could be through relatively informal mechanisms (including traditional, religious or civil society), as well as front line formal organisations such as the police and local courts. Our research adds in these aspects and estimates the related costs at a basic community level. It takes a people-based approach, focused on what is needed to address people’s ‘everyday’ justice problems (Barendrecht et al., 2018; Canadian Forum on Civil Justice, 2018), and estimates the costs for the state and individuals of the various components required to deliver a nationwide basic justice service in all countries (with the precise form adapted to each context).

 The paper sets out in sections 2 and 3 the approach to developing the costings, which is based on that used in the education and health sectors in the early 2000s in relation to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The methodology is described in more detail in sections 4 and 5, and the cost estimates are presented in section 6. Section 7 considers affordability in the light of available resources and concludes that for low-income countries scaled-up basic justice provision is unaffordable without substantial external funding from the international community. Section 8 briefly reviews the case for investing in justice before we draw together our findings in the conclusions in section 9. This final section also includes recommendations for two specific next steps to (1) develop and take forward the costing analysis, and (2) take action on a pilot basis to test whether a global challenge fund approach – which has worked well in other sectors to deliver scaled-up service delivery and mobilise scaled-up resources – could also work for justice.

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