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Where is the human rights movement heading to?

My good friend, Ed Rekosh of Cardozo Law School recently published a thoughtful and timely article on the current trends in the human rights world. His main interest is the declining business model of the human rights organisations. Most have been caught by surprise by the developments in the past couple of years – growing hostility to human rights, decreasing government funding and ideological shifts which leave the human rights movement into a conundrum.

Most importantly Ed is discussing the possible ways ahead. Innovative products such as ‘apps that facilitate human rights monitoring through collecting, analyzing and organizing around big data” is particularly apt and timely idea. Human rights are normative values but also can be seen as events around which information amasses. Smart and creative uses of such information can ‘productize’ the human rights idea and give the human rights defenders valuable tool for fund-raising and financial sustainability.

Here are all 6 proposals for a new paradigm for (self)funding human rights  organisations:

  1. Return to traditional forms of organizing that are less dependent on expensive, professionalized operations, in some cases harnessing trends in professional “pro bono” volunteering.

  2. Embrace peer-to-peer and crowd-sourcing technology, through crowdfunding platforms, hashtag campaigns and apps that facilitate human rights monitoring through collecting, analyzing and organizing around big data.

  3. Develop membership-based models for local fundraising, like Amnesty International-India and other NGOs in the global South have begun to do.

  4. Create new sources of revenue through entrepreneurial approaches to generate fee-for-services revenue.

  5. Disrupt abusive business practices in a particular industry, such as employment of migrant domestic helpers, by setting up alternative, socially responsible businesses.

  6. Support strategies that leverage the influence of investors, consumers, large companies and global brands, as Oxfam and other NGOs have done on a number of issues


January 3, 2017 at 4:08 pm Leave a comment

Nepalese legal aid lawyers recognized as important for democracy, rule of law, ending impunity and strengthening the criminal law system

At the end of 2016 the president of Nepal, Bidya Devi Bhandari, as well as the prime minister, Pushpa Kamal Dahal, attended a conference dedicated to the work of the country’s legal aid lawyers. The speeches recognize the critical value of the government funded lawyers for the safeguarding of the fundamental human rights and fair and effective criminal justice system.

More details about the conference are available here.

January 2, 2017 at 5:33 pm Leave a comment

Market-based view on privacy and big data

A recently published paper – “Separation, Pooling, and Predictive Privacy Harms from Big Data: Confusing Benefits for Costs”, looks at the right to privacy from the perspective of market efficiency. The dilemma is between more efficient markets based on sufficient information which indicate who are the good or bad debtors, customers, employees on the one hand. Put simply – in an effective economy bad (higher risk) types subsidize good (lower risk) types. On the other hand, is the right to be ‘left alone’. Big data analytics makes it ever more possible and affordable to predict behavior based on previous events. This inevitably leads to diverse treatment – some debtors, customers, employees are seen as more or less risk than others. This leads to market effective decisions but also causes “predictive privacy harm” or “classification harm”.
Big data can reduce information asymetries and thus  improve the performance of the markets. The question is – when can Big data be harmful. The author, James C. Cooper, uses economic theories of contracts and torts to answer the question. Analytical and empirical arguments reveal that Big data and the right to privacy co-exist in a complex relationships. Big data can lead to “predictive privacy harm” but also can deliver many benefits. Examples are the labour markets, differential treatment of the poor in credit markets etc. As result of the discussion the author calls for cautious and balanced approach to the calls for Big data public policies.

September 19, 2015 at 2:58 pm Leave a comment

Use of video to disseminate targeted and easy to understand legal information

The Law Society of Scotland published a short video which provides easy to understand information about the role of the solicitor in the conveyancing process. It is a good example for effective use of available and relatively cheap technology for legal empowerment of the people.

April 2, 2015 at 12:14 pm Leave a comment

What does Big Data mean for Civil Justice?

Can Big Data radically transform justice? Most likely not. At least we cannot expect a radical revolution. First, justice happens in many rooms – court rooms, living rooms, administrative offices, lawyers’ board rooms, village elders’ houses etc. Second, even in the formal justice, data is not in the driver’s seat. Justice is rooted in legal, cultural and social norms. It is about moral values, social order and distribution of power. Knowledge which is based on quantified data plays relatively little role in the design, planing, implementation and assessment of the justice processes.
Big Data itself is a cloudy term which encompasses technologies for storing and processing large amounts of (structured and unstructured) data. Nowadays, for a few hundred dollars (the bill though can scale up quite quickly) one can buy massive cloud storage and powerful analytical services from providers such as Amazon Web Services, Google App Engine, Microsoft’s Windows Azure, Cloudera and many others. Data which was deemed technically, economically and organizationally insurmountable  a few years ago now can be easily processed and converted into knowledge.
Will the Big Data hype go unnoticed in the justice world. Highly unlikely. Examples from the fields of national security, anti-terrorism and criminal justice show the abundance of justice relevant data and the appetite to collect and extract knowledge from it. Mass-surveillance programmes of national intelligence services are par excellence Big Data applications. I should note that most of these practices are controversial with respect to their compliance to legal (privacy and data protection), governance (transparency and democratic oversight) as well as moral perspective. My interest here is the field of civil justice. It is the domain of disputes and grievances that occur in the daily lives of people and companies. Think about disputes with providers of goods and services or disagreements over real estate and land, employment, family and inheritance.
There is a variety of potentially Big Data sources in the world of civil justice:
  • Case law of courts and tribunals
  • Records from private and public providers of justice services (lawyers, legal aid organisations, self-help web sites etc., online dispute resolution schemes)
  • Meta-data from courts and other agencies that dispense civil justice (public registries, notaries public, enforcement agents, bailiffs, police, public authorities that deal with disputes and grievances)
  • Records and users’ reviews from e-commerce sites,
  • Data from complaint departments
  • Social media
  • Credit ratings
  • Data generated by “internet of things” devices
  • Traffic data from internet and telecom providers
  • …..
With the existing Big Data technologies it becomes technically feasible to store, link and analyze data in various formats and stored in different places. Many tools are available to process real-time data streams. But the challenge for Big Data in civil justice is to formulate sustainable business models. In other words – how to translate the data into value. Here are a few propositions for the value that Big Data can deliver to the field of civil justice:
  • Identify gaps in the supply and demand for justice
  • Understand better the needs of the users of justice
  • Deliver justice services that better fit the needs of individuals and communities
  • Better prevention and resolution of disputes
  • Diagnose and triage of dispute resolution
  • Turn the vast world of unstructured justice data into knowledge
  • Innovate justice
In a next blog post I will discuss Big Data tasks and technologies that can bring justice value.

February 16, 2015 at 6:11 pm Leave a comment

UN Rapporteur criticizes Portugal over worsening access to justice

Recent report (original only in Portugese) of the UN Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers warns about worsening access to justice situation in the country. Three problem areas are noted:

– Increasing costs of access to justice

– Many people do not qualify for legal aid

– Fragmentation of responsibility for the delivery of legal aid.

The rapporteur does not point to any specific policy changes but stresses on the need for broader dialogue between the main stakeholders in the Portuguese justice system:

“There must be a continuous dialogue between the government, judges, prosecutors, lawyers and representatives of civil society to ensure that the reforms bring the desired changes and increase the effectiveness of the justice system.”

February 8, 2015 at 9:28 pm Leave a comment

Are disputes between neighbors the link between access to justice and heart disease?

Heart diseases are the single biggest killer in the developed world. Many factors (life style, diet, genes, race/ethnicity, gender etc.) contribute to it. A bit surprisingly the quality of the neighborhood could play a role. A recently published study by the University of Michingan finds that higher perceived neighborhood social cohesion is associated with a lower risk of heart disease (myocardial infarction).
“Neighborhood social cohesion is the perceived degree of connectedness between and among neighbours and their willingness to intervene for the common good.”
The longitudinal study of a panel of 5276 US adults over the age of 50 who had no history of heart decease found an association between perceived neighborhood social cohesion and risk of myocardial infraction. The correlation is negative, meaning that higher neighborhood cohesion is associated with lower chance of heart disease. Each standard degree of perceived neighborhood social cohesion was associated with a 22% reduced odds of myocardial infraction. This relationship remained significant even after the researchers controlled for behavioral, biological and psychological covariates.
Consistently, research on justice needs in both industrialized and developing nations find that disputes between neighbors are among the most frequently occurring legal problems in daily life. Neighborhood disputes together with consumer problems are the archetypal ‘low value – high volume’ types of problems with possible legal solution. Very few dispute resolution mechanisms, however, are accessible for those who are embroiled in disagreements over noise, garbage, pets, parking, communal infrastructure etc.
Other research claim that unresolved disputes in the neighborhoods, incidence of violence and drug use are very strong predictors of neighborhood decay. From here one can hypothesize a reverse relationship between access to justice for neighborhood disputes and heart disease. Unfortunately rarely the focus of the policy makers and access to justice advocates is directed to the seemingly minor and not serious disputes between neighbors. In Buddhism it is stated that minor incidences of violence accumulate relentlessly and multiply on a social level and become a source of a major violence that can surge upon us so suddenly. This is why people need access to justice to resolve their problems and disagreements in a fair manner.

February 2, 2015 at 9:28 pm Leave a comment

In Ethiopia administrative grievances pose challenge to people’s access to justice

Ethiopia has a population of almost 90 million people and spans over a vast territory in Eastern Africa. Although being one of the poorest countries in the world Ethiopia aspires to reform its legal system. Its leaders embrace modern managerial approaches such as Balanced scorecards and Business process re-engineering. The country is also a good example in smart computerization of courts as well as other justice sector institutions.

There are many challenges, however. Adem Kasse, senior researcher at the institute of International Peace and Rule of Law of the Max Planck Foundation at the University of Heidlberg reviews some of them. Slow and unpredictable court procedures clearly violate the right to timely access to justice. Another is the lack of mechanisms to guarantee access to justice in administrative cases. Kasse points to the influence of the administrative agencies on the lives of many people in Ethiopia:

“Administrative bodies give directives and make decisions that affect millions of people every day.”

Many aspects of the work of the administrative agencies are governed not by the law but by institutional culture. These practices often fall outside the formal remedies that guarantee that the executive agencies abide to the rule of law. In Ethiopia the institution of the Ombudsman is getting established but it is still far away from being an effective remedy in all cases in which the citizens and organizations are in a conflict with administrative agencies. As Kasse points out there is no baseline study to assess the depth and impact of the problems with access to justice in these cases.

Read more about about access to justice in Ethiopia here



November 10, 2014 at 9:52 pm Leave a comment

In Malaysia a mobile app will help people prepare legal documents

Malaysian law firm Bon Advocates prepares to develop mobile app for legal documents. It aims to help the users with basic documents such as sales and purchase agreements, wills, divorce petitions and bail applications. Next year the DIY law app should be ready for the public.

The legal profession, however, is concerned. “I think it’s a bit reckless, if you don’t know your rights, and you start doing these things on your own because you won’t know the implications and ramifications” said Ragunath Kesavan from the Bar Council.

A criminal lawyer is worried about lay people’s understanding of the various offences and procedural intricacies: “A lay person will not be able to appreciate the distinctions. Even some lawyers get such distinctions mixed up. And in pleading guilty and doing mitigation, does a layperson know the legal consequences of pleading guilty? Would a layperson know what is the sentencing pattern of a particular offence?”

Read more about the Malaysian access to justice app and the controversies around it here.


October 12, 2014 at 9:16 am Leave a comment

European Small Claims Procedure – normative and positive dualism in access to justice

In 2009 the European Small Claims procedure was established by Regulation 861/2007. Easier and cheap access to justice for consumers and other parties in civil and commercial trans-border transactions was the main rationale behind the new device. A recently released empirical study (although methodologically not very robust!) illustrates well how intentions to provide more access to justice might be hindered by mundane but tangible barriers.
First, finding of the study is that the procedure is barely known among consumers but also courts and other judicial authorities. There is anecdotal evidence of claims being turned down because courts allegedly did not know about Regulation 861/2007 and the procedure.
Second, there is significant evidence that language, service of judgments and enforcement might rise as serious barriers. Many courts require all foreign documents officially translated. It is the claimant herself who has to manage through the complex rules and procedure of serving documents and enforcing court decisions of foreign courts. The report tells the example of a claimant who has obtained a favorable judgment, contacted a bailiff in the country of execution but never received a response.
Not surprisingly, there is lack of systematically collected data on the application of the procedure. Lastly, the report emphasizes on the fact that often the claimants do not have access to forms and templates as stipulated by Regulation 861/2007.
Several policy changes are recommended as a way to bridge the apparent discrepancy between the goals of the Regulation and its implementation. Common language, appointment of courts which are solely responsible for dealing with the small claims procedure and awareness campaigns are the three most salient options.
Read here the report on the application of the European Small Claims Procedure

September 23, 2012 at 9:17 pm Leave a comment

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