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Taking people-centred justice to scale: Investing in what works to deliver SDG 16.3 in lower-income countries

Who we are

ODI is collaborating with Pathfinders for Justice to investigate, analyse and publicise realistic and affordable mechanisms for taking people-centred justice to scale in the world’s poorest countries.

The ODI based research team is Marcus Manuel, Clare Manuel and Pilar Domingo. We’re partnering with individuals and organisations in low and lower-middle income countries to investigate and put a spotlight on affordable and scalable initiatives that have the potential to deliver on the promise of SDG 16.3 for the world’s poorest people and communities.

We’re grateful to the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation for funding this work and to The Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs Dutch government for additional support.

What we're doing

SDG16.3 aspires to ensure equal access to justice for all by 2030. This is a global challenge. ODI research has shown that, even with maximised tax take, the poorest countries cannot afford to provide even basic justice services. And yet providing these services and closing this gap in lower-income countries is affordable, with support from the international community. As Pathfinders for Justice have said: what is needed is a transformation in ambition.

This research will highlight examples of initiatives delivering people-centred justice, with affordable unit costs, that have gone to scale, or have the potential to do so. The aim is to identify initiatives which offer lessons for lower-income countries’ national access to justice strategies and also for donor justice programming. The research will also draw on lessons from other sectors that have successfully taken service provision to scale.

The research project runs from October 2021 to September 2023. Findings will be shared with governments, development agencies, and other funding and justice partners.

What we're learning

We’ve begun to identify and publish examples of scalable people-centred justice:

  • Sierra Leone’s National Legal Aid Board: Sierra Leone is a rare example of a low-income country where the government funds a large-scale justice assistance programme through a network of community paralegals based in rural and urban areas providing support, advice and assistance. This scaled-up model has achieved affordable unit costs for community-based paralegals of $22 per case. (research funded by Open Society, publication forthcoming)
  • Criminal justice paralegals: Drawing on data from Malawi and Uganda we estimate that the costs of investing in criminal justice paralegals to achieve reductions in unsentenced detainees in low-income countries are $20 per prisoner. Providing national systems of criminal justice paralegals in all low-income countries would cost $9million a year, and would deliver a potential cost saving of over $28million a year, three times the cost. (See paper below)
  • Justice aid: Despite the growing global movement on people-centred justice approaches, latest aid figures confirm that justice is a low priority for donors. Donor justice programmes continue to be largely focused on top-down institutional reform and a normative rule-of-law approach. To move away from this, donors must change both what and how they fund, with a focus on funding the expansion of justice services to prevent and resolve people’s justice problems at the local level. (See paper below)