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Taking people-centred justice to scale: the role of customary and informal justice in advancing people-centred justice

Briefing/policy papers

Written by Lisa Denney, Pilar Domingo

Image credit:NomeVisualizzato / Pixabay

Key Messages

  • Customary and informal justice (CIJ) mechanisms are the most utilised justice providers globally and especially by people living in poverty, women and other marginalised groups who are most at risk of being left behind in achieving access to justice for all. Understanding CIJ and how to engage with them is important as they are an unavoidable feature of the justice landscape.
  • CIJ mechanisms are diverse. They include a wide range of justice and dispute-resolution providers, with differing normative foundations, varying degrees of recognition by the state, and they evolve over time. This means that making generalisations about CIJ are unhelpful. Categorising formal and informal justice systems as essentially good or bad is inaccurate and can hinder progress on improving access to justice.
  • Donors can find it difficult to engage with CIJ. This is especially due to sometimes very real human rights concerns about CIJs, domestic political concerns, and donor’s bureaucratic challenges.
  • This paper sets out how these challenges might be reframed in ways that open up possibilities of productive engagement by international actors through politically informed and context-sensitive approaches relating to people’s experience of CIJ.
  • Examples of donor engagement with CIJ, and the diversity of what this can entail, remain disparately documented. These examples are an important resource to compile, share amongst donors and learn from.
  • Ultimately, a spectrum approach to international engagement will be helpful, with some CIJ actors leaning towards the direct engagement end, and others falling at the opposite end where such engagement may be inappropriate. At a minimum, donors must recognise the empirical reality of CIJ and how this should inform their programming on access to justice.
  • There is a need for investment in further research to build the evidence base on the following: regarding the productive roles CIJ may play in providing people-centred justice; the evolutionary nature of CIJ; and innovative examples of donor engagement with CIJ.

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