Access to Justice and COVID-19

In countries around the world, the COVID-19 pandemic is upending everyday life and livelihoods. Catalyzed by the pandemic, legal needs are spiraling—from expanding risk of eviction and challenges securing social protection payments to increasing COVID-19 mortality due to air pollution and evidence connecting COVID-19 induced states of emergency with the seizure of community lands. Needs are also rapidly changing in nature for all areas where people face the more common justice problems.

Back in March 2020, as COVID-19 crept around the world, the United Nations Statistical Commission held its annual meeting in New York. In effort to be able to measure progress on the promise of SDG16 to strengthen equal access to justice for all, the Commission discussed strategies to improve civil justice data. It made important progress when it established a new global Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) indicator (16.3.3) to track progress towards access to civil justice. It also endorsed the Praia City Group Handbook on Governance Statistics which includes guidance for strengthening access to justice data.

Over the last half year, the need for reliable and timely justice data has only been made more stark. The justice sector is facing a triple crunch of rapidly increasing justice needs, shrinking public resources and continued health measures that make core government functions more complex. Policymakers need to rapidly understand what justice problems people are facing, how their justice journeys are affected and where bottlenecks are emerging. They need better data to inform decision-making around the policy options to strengthen justice for all.

Importantly, existing civil justice data consistently reveals that justice problems are linked with disadvantage: the poor and powerless are more likely to face such problems and are less likely to act. Unresolved legal problems are most likely to impact the populations and communities most vulnerable to COVID-19.

Better and more timely justice data can be a core strategy to help target the COVID-19 response. Over the last months, multiple organizations have argued for the need imbed access to justice approaches in COVID-19 response strategies. These strategies recommend expanding data on access to justice as a key element of more responsive COVID-19 strategies.

The Urgent Need for Data & Evidence

Despite increased calls for better justice data, gaps remain in the knowledge, research and data needed to effectively advance SDG 16.3.3. and access to justice in the COVID-19 era. Policymakers need responsive data and indicators as well as expanded methodologies to strengthen evidence on the policies that will improve access to civil justice for all.

Over the second half of 2020, the Pathfinders for Peaceful, Just and Inclusive Societies, World Justice Project, and the Open Society Justice Initiative will host a series of conversations to identify strategies to strengthen the collection and use of justice data in the COVID-19 era. WJP, Pathfinders, and OSJI will analyze and synthesize these discussions and produce a challenge paper in early 2021 that identifies justice data priorities and strategies for near term.

In recent years important progress has been made by governments, academics and civil society organizations in numerous countries—including Argentina, Canada, Colombia, South Africa and Indonesia—as well as other global organizations and platforms. These efforts reveal how a focus on better justice data has helped identify strategies to improve outcomes. Such strategies are all the more vital in the current pandemic.

Get Involved

Follow Pathfinders for Peaceful, Just and Inclusive Societies and the World Justice Project for updates on our progress in the coming months. If you are a data producer, researcher, policymaker, or civil society organization working to collect or use civil justice data, we would love to hear from you. To contribute to these conversations or to share information about your work measuring access to justice in the COVID-19 era, contact us at [email protected].

Peter Chapman NYUCIC

Peter Chapman is an independent expert on justice and governance reform and a Fellow at New York University's Center on International Cooperation (CIC). Peter was previously a senior policy officer at the Open Society Justice Initiative. He co-led the Justice Initiative's Legal Empowerment project focused on strengthening the ability of people and communities to understand, use, and shape the law. He has worked on social and environmental justice as a justice reform specialist for the World Bank, as a legal associate for the Carter Center in Liberia, and the Public International Law & Policy Group in Uganda and Washington, D.C. Peter has published on law and sustainable development for a variety of audiences including Cambridge University Press and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. Peter holds a J.D. from American University's Washington College of Law, M.A. from American University's School of International Service, and B.A. from Colgate University.

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