DC dispatch: World Bank highlights importance of rule of law in development forum Dispatches
© JURIST // Sharon Basch
DC dispatch: World Bank highlights importance of rule of law in development forum

Sharon Basch is a rising 3L at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law and a JURIST staff correspondent in Washington DC this summer.  

Late last week,  World Bank Headquarters in Washington, DC  held its Justice and the Rule of Law Global Forum, organized in recognition of the fact that “[j]ustice institutions and the rule of law are vital to the achievement of the World Bank Group’s (WBG) mission to end extreme poverty and boost shared prosperity on a livable planet.” The Forum brought together legal, business, and  international policy experts to discuss the role of companies, governments, and courts in closing the global justice gap, especially through sustainable development. I attended some of the sessions, to hear rule of law data and potential solutions.

Much of the world does not have access to legal remedies for their legal issues, be it due to lack of legal resources, lack of trust in legal institutions, or lack of funding. The forum focused on these issues, sharing key data and pragmatic solutions – putting people and local-level justice at the center. Various issues were discussed in detail, including gender justice and women’s access to the law, businesses working in dispute resolution as an alternative to litigation, justice as a pillar for economic development, an the role of investors and foreign direct investment – all pathways to reducing the justice gap.

The Forum was opened with an analysis of key global legal issues, access to remedies, and what barriers exist along the way. A USAID (United States Agency for International Development) spokesperson listed the three major challenges to closing the justice gap as:

  1. Erosion of trust in legal and governmental institutions, especially due to high levels of corruption,
  2. Lack of women’s rights and gender equality, and
  3. A lack of funding required to institute necessary reforms

These three core issues are being investigated by the USAID Rule of Law Innovation, Design, Experimentation, Acceleration, and Solutions (IDEAS) lab, established by USAID to strengthen the rule of law and promote “people-centered justice.”

Similarly, the OECD has made a set of five recommendations for improving access to justice.

  1. Establishing a people-centered purpose and culture in new justice systems by securing commitment at the highest levels of the government and embracing the goal of ensuring equal access to all,
  2. Designing and delivering people-centered legal and justice services by ensuring the availability, accessibility, and quality of legal and justice-related services,
  3.  Establishing a governance infrastructure that enables people-centered justice by developing legal and policy frameworks necessary to enable efficient, integrated, and sustainable justice pathways,
  4. Empowering people to make people-centered justice transformation happen by providing equal and fair opportunities for all stakeholders, fostering legal literacy, and promoting competence, professionalism, engagement, and diversity of the justice sector, and
  5.  Committing to a participatory and evidence-based planning monitoring, and evaluation by enhancing the role of evidence for policy and decision-making purposes.

Gender Justice

Clara Lahoud Maghani, Public Sector Specialist at the World Bank, presented her findings on women’s access to justice at the Forum, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East/North Africa. Her reporting included massive data collection efforts in these regions, anonymously surveying women. While it has been clear that there is a gender gap in access to justice, prior to this report, there was no actual data backing the claim. In Sub-Saharan Africa, women are 44% more likely to report violent crime, especially in relation to family issues, while men were more likely to report business issues. The report also found that women’s marital status directly affected legal protection: Married women were more protected, especially in property rights, followed by divorced or widowed women, and lastly, single women. Clara has been working throughout the region to institutionalize justice systems. Calling a country’s justice system a “mirror of society,” Ms. Maghani explained that male-dominated justice systems do not account for women. Clara’s project has led to Integrated Justice Centers in Tanzania, providing speedier, more efficient, and more accessible justice. Through the World Bank, Ms. Maghani plans to expand such reforms throughout the region.

Dispute Resolution

The Forum included numerous panels about business and business practices as a more tangible way to provide accessibility to justice – or at least, start making the much-needed revenue required to change justice systems globally. The World Bank’s B-READY (Business Ready) project is  a new initiative aimed at assessing and benchmarking the business and investment climate worldwide. With evidence and data, governments can implement reforms that foster a stronger private sector and attract investment. Though B-READY is not a legal aid program, it can contribute to improving a government’s regulatory framework by identifying laws that disproportionately affect vulnerable groups. The data can also be used to hold governments accountable for their commitments to justice and rule of law. When proper dispute resolution institutions (like mediation or arbitration) are in place, it is possible to avoid escalation to litigation – reducing costs and lengthy litigation.

Generally speaking, the Forum was an excellent opportunity to learn about new data collected in various nations, as well as some projects implementing tangible changes. Despite an excellent view of data-collection and small projects however, much of the Forum felt self-congratulatory. While some contentment is to be expected considering many strides forward, it appears that not all that much has changed on a wider scale. Patiently, I wait to see what the World Bank will do with all of the newly collected data to truly promote access to justice globally.