Posts filed under ‘Innovations’

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

New Innovating Justice blog post: Court reform, the Italian way?

In a recent blog post HiiL‘s prof. Maurits Barendrecht critically reviews court reforms that recently take place in Italy and other South European countries. A vivid image of certain aspects of the described legal systems is the opening sentence of the blog: “In Italy, a good wine matures faster than a court case.”

Reforms instigated by donors such as the IMF and the World Bank are unlikely to deliver results because:

  • Courts should focus not on performance figures but on actual problem solving;
  • There are little incentives for courts to perform as (most of) the society wants them to;
  • Civil justice procedures are stuck in old paradigms.

What might be the solutions? Specialisation of neutral decision makers, flexible procedures which deviate from the ‘one size fits all’ philosophy and other innovations in the legal world.

Read Court reform, the Italian way? blog post here


August 21, 2012 at 10:59 pm Leave a comment

Lawrence Lessig: law should be about real people and their real problems

Prof. Lawrence Lessig, Professor of Law at Harvard, delivered an unusual but highly inspirational commencement address to the graduation class of Atlanta’s John Marshall Law School. His main message touched upon the place of the future lawyers in a broken legal system which is serving well a tiny minority of wealthy and privileged but neglects the huge mass of people who desperately need its protection. Lessing calls it “the law of real people”:

“My point is not to criticize Inc. Law. It helps create wealth; it helps protect wealth. It gives great innovators a chance to bring their innovations to market.
Instead my point is to emphasize the importance of the other part of law. Not the “Inc.” part, but the part that touches real people with real problems. It’s the part that keeps a family in their home against an unjust demand for eviction. Or enforces a simple contract with a bank, to supply the credit for a coffee shop. Or protects a woman against her abusive husband. Or forces an insurance company to pay on a claim it rightly owes. Or defends a child in a foster home against the neglect of a distracted state.

This, too, is law — the law of Erin Brockovich, not the law of Cravath Swaine & Moore.

But here’s the thing about this law: No one thinks it works well.”

Using historical discourse Lessing asks the young lawyers a tough question – how in the past 300 years the law evolved so little and basically in the wrong direction. Nowadays, when we live with smart phones, electronic books, wind-generated energy and the medicine is successfully combating more and more forms of cancer, the law is …. actually getting worse. It is making the poor people poorer and the rich richer.

“But if you look at day-to-day law as it affects ordinary people, it’s clear that the law back then was aimed at a more pedestrian crowd — at ordinary citizens and ordinary problems. And it’s clear that the greatest lawyers worked first on the law aimed toward that pedestrian crowd.
Since that time, we’ve seen little progress in this aspect of the law. Indeed, we’ve seen an accelerating retreat. We can cure cancer today. We could, if we chose, feed every human on the planet, three times over. But we can’t give an ordinary citizen an easy and efficient way to protect her rights.”

Truth to be told there are innovations in justice as well – look at Hiil’s plartform for many bright examples for bold and far reaching innovations. But these are mostly bottom-up innovations – led by communities and NGOs. The private sector which drives innovation in technology, communications, transport and other areas is nowhere to be seen. It is time for change. And this change can be triggered by the young lawyers from all over the world. They only need to be steered towards the challenges of  “the law of real people”

Read the whole address of Prof. Lessig here. Many thanks to Prof. Nelly Ognyanova for bringing this to my attention.

June 3, 2012 at 2:01 pm Leave a comment

Research finds that 27% of Americans used cell phones to settle an argument or disagreement

Survey research of Pew Internet finds that 27% of the Americans used their cell phones in the last 30 days to settle an argument or disagreement. Very likely only a portion of these disagreements were justiciable but still – there is an important interaction between dispute resolution, access to justice and mobile technologies.

Predictably, younger people use more often their cell phones to solve disputes. What is interesting is that men are using cell phones more frequently than women when there is a need to settle and argument (31% vs. 22%).  Also those who have smartphones are significantly more likely to use them to solve disputes than owners of cell phones.

These findings raise many additional questions: how people use mobile phones to settle disputes; what types of problems are more likely to be resolved with mobile technologies; do people who use mobile phones in the dispute resolution process achieve more results.

May 8, 2012 at 9:46 pm Leave a comment

Innovating Justice Forum 2012: Towards Basic Justice Care for Everyone, 16-17 April 2012, The Hague

On 16-17 April 2012 dozens of legal innovators, researchers and activists will gather at the Innovating Justice Forum organized by HiiL. Participants will discuss the main findings of a recently published Trend Report: Towards Basic Justice Care for Everyone. Some of the main highlights of the report are:

  • Justice needs | What are the most frequent and urgent problems for which people tend to turn to advisers and neutral third parties for assistance? What is the impact of these problems?
  •  What works to meet these needs and what makes it challenging | As most problems are solved by communication and negotiation, and some by adjudication, we asess what makes these processes work, and what are the challenges for lawyers, judges, NGO’s and the many other providers of access to justice to deliver this assistance.
  • Promising, innovative appproaches | Across the world, lawyers, NGO’s, project leaders, judges and entrepreneurs are working hard to improve access to justice. Their innovations are about to change the delivery of justice in fundamental ways. We highlight the trends in dispute resolution, courts and internet based services, showing how each of them contributes to a setting in which more fair outcomes can be guaranteed.
Read more about the Innovating Justice Forum 2012 and  Trend Report : Towards Basic Justice Care for Everyone

April 14, 2012 at 3:47 pm Leave a comment

Big injustice, big attention

Cross-posted from

This post is the second in a series of six. In the coming time, you can find weekly blogposts that will present the highlight from the report “Innovating Justice: Towards Basic Justice Care for Everyone” Each of these posts will introduce a topic that will be discussed during the Innovating Justice Forum of April 16-17 in The Hague

Big injustice, big attention…

In the first blog in this series Maurits Barendrecht discussed the mesmerizing effect of the social media campaign to hold Ugandan war lord Joseph Kony accountable for the terrible crimes he and his accomplices committed. Perhaps it is normal that our collective consciousness is so powerfully captivated by the extreme examples of injustice. Today’s America is split over the tragic death of Trayvon Martin. Cambodians are still hoping that the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia will deliver its second verdict for the atrocities committed more than 30 years ago.

Are the legal problems in everyday life less important?

Justice, however, is also part of everyday life. A powerful video produced by the Ukrainian International Renaissance Foundation lets the people from Zakotne, a small village in the Lugansk region, talk about their needs for justice. For them justice means fair compensation for their hard work. Caught in the grips of greedy middle men and corrupt public officials, the farmers need protection and assistance. In their world justice is about the availability or  lack of safeguards for their most valuable assets – work, family, friends, children, property.

Such types of justice needs are not in the news. They do not generate a lot of twitter clatter. It is unlikely that the Ukrainian video will become the next ‘Kony 2012’. In the forthcoming Trend Report “Innovating Justice: Towards Basic Justice Care for Everyone” we claim that these “small” problems do not only matter but that these should be one of the priorities for the justice system. They are important because these are the problems that billions of people face every year, every week and every day.

How much we need justice?

Analyzing empirical research from various countries we estimate that on average every person experiences at least one serious legal problem every five to ten years. And this is a rather conservative estimation. In all likelihood, many people have bruises with the law much more often than that. For instance, a survey research in Ukraine reports that 54% of the respondents had to deal with at least one justiciable problem in the preceding three years. In Canada, study from 2009 finds that about 45% had to deal with a legal problem during the past three years.

What are the problems of the people?

Our Trend Report on Basic Justice Care also looks at the types of problems that people experience. Which are the most frequent problems? Which legal problems have the most severe impact on people’s lives? Clearly, the preponderance varies by country and perhaps by stages of socio-economic development. In more affluent consumer societies problems of consumption, employment, debt and family relationships are experienced most frequently. In transitioning countries, public services and disputes with neighbours have high prevalence. People from less developed countries frequently experience problems with personal security and inadequate protection of property rights.

Basic justice needs relate to people’s most important relationships

In summary, in the Trend Report we claim that people need justice and basic justice care in their everyday live. The Trend Report also shows that the most pressing needs to justice tend to occur in the vital and close relationships on which people count for survival, prosperity and attainment of life goals. Systemic failures to respond to justice needs deprive people and communities from chances to develop and prosper.

The promise of basic justice care for everyone

On a positive note, the availability of basic justice care for everyone will contribute to empowerment, growth and peace. Achieving these goals is not impossible, but requires greater attention and innovative solutions.

April 2, 2012 at 9:37 am Leave a comment

Traditional Courts Bill sparks controversies in South Africa

The Traditional Courts Bill was first introduced in 2008. Recently it was reintroduced and according to its sponsors the Bill should become effective as of the end of 2012. The Bill repeals the Black Administration Act of 1927 – no doubt, a long overdue task.

In a nutshell, the Bill regulates the institution of a traditional court. The minister responsible for the administration of justice designates a senior traditional leader, king or queen! to preside over the traditional court. Traditional courts will have jurisdiction to hear certain civil matters (exceptions are constitutional matters, divorce, alimony, custody or guardianship of minor children etc.) as well as some criminal offences such as theft, malicious damage to property, damages not exceeding certain limits and assault which did not result into bodily injury.

When deciding upon disagreements traditional courts should apply customary law and customs. Through bringing justice to the communities the Bill aims to:

  • Affirm the values of traditional justice which is based on restorative justice and reconciliation. In the language of the Bill, restorative justice and reconciliation are true African justice values;
  • Affirm the role of the institution of traditional leadership;
  • Enhance the effectiveness, efficiency and integrity of the traditional justice system;
  • Enhancement of the quality of life of the traditional communities through mediation;
  • Promote access to justice for all persons in South Africa.

As foreseen in the Bill, traditional courts should prevent conflict, maintain harmony and resolve disputes where they have occurred. For instance, the sanctions imposed by the Traditional courts cannot be inhumane, banish one of the parties from the community or be humiliating (corporal punishment is explicitly outlawed).

If the Bill were passed as it is, the Traditional courts will have a colourful array of resolutions from which they can select in order to solve the outstanding disputes. For instance, they can impose fines which might be expressed in money but also in livestock. Traditional courts will also be able to order an unconditional apology or service in the benefit of the community.

The Bill includes certain procedural rights which should ensure the fairness and justness of the trial. The full rights of women are specifically acknowledged. Here, it should be noted that the Bill envisages only procedural rights. Substantive rights are all in the domain of customary law. Ultimately, all resolutions of the Traditional courts can be appealed to the magistrates’ courts.

Supporters of the Traditional Courts Bill emphasise its potential to bring justice closer to the communities. Zolani Mkiva, head of the presidency of the Congress of Traditional Leaders of South Africa alleges that traditional leaders will be unbiased in their role of neutrals solving disputes in Traditional Courts. “With any form of unfairness, people are free to take it to another level”.

Many observers, however, disagree with the intentions and approach of the Bill. Their arguments come from different directions. Some challenge the wisdom of centralization of local powers in the hands of non-elected and unaccountable traditional leaders. Moreover, the structure of the traditional courts centralizes significant powers to a single individual. It is not difficult to see traditional leaders disposing justice despite of conflicts of interests.

Others challenge the patriarchical fundaments of the institute of traditional leadership in South Africa and warn that such institutions can further harm the interests of women and other vulnerable groups such as foreigners who make sizeable proportion of the population of many rural areas. An example of the attitude that some traditional leaders might have towards women is a story from Prudhoe village, where an eight-month pregnant woman tried to claim damages from the man who made her pregnant and then abandoned her. The tribal court decided that she was just speculating with the good name of the man. Also the court said that the man’s father is rich and important and it is not desirable for the community to “pull their family name in the mud”. At the end, instead of being given relief, the pregnant woman was sentenced to corporal punishment.

Third argument against the Traditional Courts Bill as it is now is that it will basically force rural communities into an experiment with Traditional courts. Indeed, there is the appeal path but one immediately might ask how many of the poor, uninformed and disempowerered people will ever think of appealing the resolution of a Traditional Court.



March 26, 2012 at 11:27 pm 1 comment

Lord Justice Moses on inequality and access to justice

November 20, 2011 at 10:39 pm 1 comment

Thoughtful blog entry: Legal Power to the People

Vivek Maru, CEO of Namati, has recently deliberated on the notion of legal empowerment and its manifestation in popular movements. Pondering about the protesters in New Delhi who demanded political change, Vivek is asking whether political reforms per se can be labeled as legal empowerment. Even if designed through a democratic and legitimate process, political institutions can easily missapropriate the power balance if the communities are not capable and willing to hold them accountable. Empowerment in that sense are the capabilities of those with little formal power to restrain the groups or organisations that have access to the official sources of power. Such a mobilisation can be stimulated by the political process but requires much broader array of social actions. Therefore legal empowerment is far broader than establishment of political processes or adjustment of legal frameworks and tools. Legal empowerment is about power balance and the capabilities of people and communities to act as dignified and equal participants in the social processes regardless of their access to formal power sources.

“Governments and agencies have sought to alleviate poverty by fostering economic growth and by improving essential services like health, water, and education.  But increasingly those pursuing development recognize that success depends on communities’ ability to participate in and hold accountable public institutions.  Governments and donors can build clinics and schools, for example, but what happens if the drugs and books aren’t delivered?  Or if the nurses and teachers don’t show up to work?”

Read Legal Power to the People in the Open Society Blog

November 20, 2011 at 10:02 pm Leave a comment

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