Only a multi-stakeholder approach can improve trust and access to the rule of law worldwide, say World Justice Project’s William H. Neukom and Elizabeth Andersen.
“When spider webs combine, they can tie up a lion.” This evocative Ethiopian proverb is not simply a rallying cry; it is the guiding principle for our work to improve access to justice and the rule of law worldwide.
Today, an estimated 5.1 billion people — the overwhelming majority of people around the globe — lack access to justice. This includes 1.5 billion who cannot obtain justice for everyday civil, administrative, or criminal problems; 4.5 billion who are excluded from the opportunities law provides, because they lack legal identity, land tenure, or access to the formal employment sector; and more than 250 million people who are living in modern slavery or other extreme conditions of injustice.
Only a multi-stakeholder, multi-sectoral response can bring the political, financial, and creative resources required to address a challenge of this scale. At the World Justice Project, the organization we lead, we have put such collaboration at the heart of our identity and work. From our founding ten years ago, we have helped build a broad movement to improve access to justice and advance the rule of law, recognizing this cause is not just a matter for judges and lawyers. Those of us in the legal profession cannot go it alone.
Our research demonstrates the value of a multi-stakeholder approach.
World Justice Project staff recently performed a study of the 90 rule of law programs in 61 countries that we have incubated, inspired, or supported since our founding. Our key finding: programs that employed an intentional and robust multi-disciplinary and collaborative approach were the most successful in diagnosing problems and finding creative solutions that worked, resonated broadly, and were sustainable.
An example that illustrates how partnerships are leading to breakthroughs in bridging the justice gap is an innovative program that uses health resources to improve access to justice for Alaska’s rural indigenous population.
Much of Alaska’s rural indigenous population lives beyond the road system and far from the lawyers and legal institutions that are concentrated in Alaska’s cities. Working to address this population’s unmet legal needs, the Alaska Supreme Court’s Access to Civil Justice Committee mapped the community resources available across the state and discovered that health clinics were the most prevalent.
From that key insight, a ground-breaking collaboration was born. The Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, Alaska Pacific University, Alaska Legal Services Corporation (ALSC), and the state Supreme Court partnered to create a medical-legal partnership to serve rural, indigenous Alaskans. The partnership embeds legal aid providers in the tribal healthcare system and provides legal training and tools to community-based healthcare workers. Together, the legal aid providers and the healthcare workers can more effectively provide a holistic response to the underlying legal as well as medical dimensions of health problems caused by conditions of poverty, inadequate housing, environmental hazards, and domestic violence. Now, legal assistance is available in 107 remote communities.
In their first two years of operation, these services have provided more than 1,400 indigenous people with access to legal services. The program’s benefits extend beyond health and justice — generating US$ 2.6m in economic benefits for local communities, which includes helping people access state and federal entitlement programs, and more than US$ 600,000 savings in costs related to emergency shelters and domestic violence prevention.
“By teaming up in this way we hope to bring our vision — of a people-centered justice ecosystem that is fully accessible to all Alaskans no matter their means or how far they live from the court house — to reality,” explains ALSC Executive Director Nikole Nelson.
Another example of the benefits of a collaborative approach to advancing the rule of law is the work of Kamel Ayadi, currently Minister to the Head of the State of Tunisia. A longtime WJP partner and now member of our Board of Directors, Minister Ayadi is an engineer by training. In the early 2000s, as he rose in the leadership of the World Federation of Engineering Organizations (WFEO), he became convinced that the organization should have committees to work not just on technical aspects of engineering, but also on broader issues that affect the profession, such as corruption.
“There is a lot of corruption in infrastructure,” Minister Ayadi told us. “And engineers understand better than lawyers how it occurs and how it can be avoided, because we have eyes on every aspect of these projects, from the design and financing to studies, procurement, and execution. Engineers wanted to be part of the solution.”
Minister Ayadi, then-President of WFEO, helped make that happen. He created a standing Committee Against Corruption to engage the more than 10 million WFEO engineers in the global effort to curb corruption. With support from the World Justice Project, the committee developed standards, guidelines, and best practices; produced training materials and resources to equip engineers with the tools to detect, avoid, and properly report instances of corruption; and undertook “training of trainer” programs for WFEO member organizations in 20 countries, primarily in sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East, Northern Africa region.
Certainly, collaboration is not without its challenges. It takes time, focused attention, and careful communication. We have learned to start the process with credible, unbiased data about the situation. Grounding such efforts in data helps move the conversation past preconceived ideas about the issue we are examining and focuses everyone on finding solutions. Strong and committed leadership from those with standing across stakeholder groups can also be important for moving effective collaborations forward.
Meeting these challenges takes patience and effort, but experience shows that spinning our webs together yields compelling results.
The World Justice Project defines the rule of law as a durable system of laws, institutions, norms, and community commitment that delivers:
The government as well as private actors are accountable under the law.
The laws are clear, publicized, and stable; are applied evenly; and protect fundamental rights, including the security of persons and contract, property, and human rights.
The processes by which the laws are enacted, administered, and enforced are accessible, fair, and efficient.
Justice is delivered in a timely fashion by competent, ethical, and independent representatives and neutrals who are accessible, have adequate resources, and reflect the makeup of the communities they serve.