Where might prevails over right, does an intellectual framework grounded on ideas about rule of law and access to justice really help us in our work?
The Hague Institute for Innovation of Law (“HiiL”) has said that this its extensive data shows that land management and family matters are “the two most frequent justice problems”. In Myanmar MyJustice has looked at some of the same issues.
There is evidence that when ordinary people think of law, they may think first of criminal justice. This is important as a good deal of international assistance is focused on issues of crime and security. But here are some things to think about.
First, a little probing reveals, as HiiL tells us, that the justice people search for more often relates to the stuff of everyday life – debts, dispute with neighbours, land grabbing, consumer relations, etc. – than it does to criminal justice.
Every country will be different, but reform programmes that do not address the issues that people meet in daily life will have trouble building knowledge about justice, let alone trust and confidence in the legal system. Yet criminal law still figures disproportionately in international assistance related to justice.
And then there’s this. We easily think of problems as being legal where there is law which is not being administered fairly, or at all, or where ordinary people are kept as arms length from justice by barriers – lack of knowledge, poverty, misogyny, corruption among lawyers and judges, distance, to name a few. But what about problems like land grabbing, where the predatory state and its foot soldiers steal people’s ancestral lands, with no action at all from the legislature or the justice system?