World Bank Paper- Review of WB's Access to Justice Programs

Inspired by recent happenings in the 'Legal Empowerment of the Poor' movement, The World Bank, as part of its Justice and Development Working Paper Series, has published a review of its Access to Justice/Legal Empowerment practice- Access to Justice and Legal Empowerment: A Review of World Bank Practice by Vivek Maru, Counsel, Justice Reform Practice Group, The World Bank (and Co-Founder of NGO Timap for Justice)

Motivated by recent discussions in the development community regarding “legal empowerment,” including a United Nations commission on the subject that completed its work in 2008, this paper reviews the World Bank’s existing work in access to justice and suggests directions for further Bank engagement in this area. 
Access to justice efforts are grouped here into six categories: court reforms, legal aid, information dissemination and education, alternative dispute resolution, public sector accountability, and research.

The paper is motivated in part by recent discussions of “legal empowerment”. Legal empowerment is a newer term and its meaning is unsettled. This paper adopts as a working definition the uses of law to bolster human agency. This is a loose paraphrase of the definition offered by Stephen Golub, who was one of the first to use the term. A thread of inquiry that runs through the paper is: how do World Bank efforts to increase “access to justice” affect the agency of poor people? 

Conclusions and Recommendations:
The paper concludes with insights and recommendations that emerge from the Bank’s experience. All justice reform interventions should attend to particularities of sociolegal context, should consider the specific justice needs of poor people, and should be planned not in isolation, but from a systemwide perspective. Legal services and legal aid interventions should confront the challenge of scale, should consider alternative methods of service delivery, and should in some cases take care to maintain at least partial independence from the state. The use of noncourt dispute resolution mechanisms should be guided by the benefits achieved in cost, time, harmony, and fairness. Evaluations of access to justice programs should go beyond “head counts” to demonstrate impact—on users of justice services as well as on society at large—and to weigh opportunity cost. 

As detailed from the Conclusion section: 
Several insights emerge from the Bank’s experience in access to justice, within and across the six themes discussed above:
  • Justice reform interventions should look beyond assumptions of generalized impact to consider the specific justice needs of poor people. An example of this kind of consideration is the study commissioned by the Venezuela Judicial Infrastructure Development Project on poor people’s experiences of the justice system.
  • Justice interventions of all kinds should be attentive to particularities of sociolegal context.
  • Individual access to justice reforms should not be considered in isolation, but rather from a systemwide perspective: what combination of interventions will most effectively maximize the right of access “in its amplest sense”?
  • Access to justice reforms have a greater chance of success when they grow out of local initiative, as seen in the partnership with Ecuadoran bar associations to train public defenders. 
  • Legal services can be designed to enhance the agency of the people that they serve.
  • Practical efforts to achieve empowerment should be coupled with further research on what empowerment looks like and how it can be achieved.
  • Legal services interventions should consider the challenge of scale. This includes placing lawyer-centered and urban services within a wider strategy to provide basic access to justice to all.
  • Much can be done to advance legal empowerment within the state, from developing mechanisms for bureaucratic accountability to building the capacity of state institutions, such as local governments and national departments on the status of women. 
  • But there is also often a strong need for independent, civil society legal empowerment efforts, to increase citizen agency in relation to state institutions.
  • Education efforts can be particularly effective when connected to concrete efforts to solve people’s justice problems.
  • Intentional public education should be complemented by a robust right to access government information on demand.
  • The use of non-court dispute resolution mechanisms should be guided by the benefits achieved in cost, time, and harmony and, importantly, by the relative fairness and equality of the process.
  • Efforts to widen access to legal identity can be integrated into work on informality, early childhood health and education, and census taking. But any such intervention should be mindful of the possible dangers and political consequences for the people being registered. 
  • Evaluations of access to justice programs should go beyond “head counts” to demonstrate impact—on users of justice services as well as on society at large—and to consider opportunity cost.

About Justice and Development Working Paper Series
The Justice and Development Working Paper Series serves as a platform for new and innovative thinking on justice and development, featuring work from World Bank staff and external authors. It is a knowledge product of the World Bank’s Justice Reform Practice Group, which generates knowledge and provides advice and assistance to Bank staff and Bank client countries on building and improving state and non-state justice system institutions and mechanisms. Justice and Development disseminates the findings of works in progress to facilitate a more rapid exchange of ideas about development issues and justice reform.

Call For Papers
Justice and Development seeks original research papers on law, justice and development. We welcome publications from both Bank colleagues and external contributors. Manuscripts must be in English, and no longer than 25-30 pages. They can be submitted to the Editorial Office at any time of the year. All submitted papers will be carefully reviewed by the Editorial Board. Criteria for selection include rigorous scholarship and innovative approaches related to law/justice and development. If you are interested in submitting a paper, please contact the Editorial Office for detailed information and editorial guidelines.

Justice Reform Practice Group
The Legal Vice Presidency, The World Bank
1818 H Street NW
Washington, DC 20433
Tel +1 202 458 2950

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