The Elephant in the Courtroom

Updated: Nov 1, 2019

At last we are finding useful empirical data about the extent to which court systems around the world are struggling to deliver against the needs of the communities they serve. The need for reform, whether disruptive and private sector led, or organic and from the courts themselves, is greater now than ever before.

However, although it is clear that courts need to reform, it is less clear how to go about doing it. Which technology is best, and what does the community want? Technology should reduce costs, enhance staff retention and satisfaction and promote settlement, but most technology implementations fail to achieve any of these objectives.

The findings of HiiL's latest report ( show:

Courts are under strain and citizens are losing faith in justice

Courts and legal systems are clearly under strain. HiiL lists 9 signals of the stress they are under. Increasing capacity does not seem to work. This situation is risky. Citizens, justice workers and society at large need to be able to rely on the rule of law, including the effective delivery of justice.

People need protection, understanding and agreement

We then focus on what works. If people get a solution, what does it look like? Where do they go and what are they asking for? What is most effective? Chapter 3 of the report reveals that most justice is rendered by understandings, reaching agreement, guided by trusted third parties and courts. People living in fear or distress are protected by their friends, family, neighbours and police who stop escalation.

Each year, one billion people need basic justice care

In Chapter 1, HiiL estimates the immediate need for justice from the data it collected. Every year, 100s of millions struggle to find fair solutions for their land problems or for issues at work. Families need help when disrupted by separation, violence or an accident. Neighbour conflicts, consumer problems and conflicts with authorities are frequent as well, an estimated one billion in total. One half of legal problems have a strong negative impact on people’s lives.

Justice workers struggle to deliver fair solutions

Chapter 2 describes how solutions are delivered. An army of legal helpers in communities bring relief. Judges at court speak of fairness. Still, the big picture is that only one third of people in distress succeed in obtaining a complete or partial solution. If they get relief, it takes a long time. The process of getting a fair solution is experienced as mediocre. Judges, lawyers and prosecutors are overburdened. The way they work is seen as outdated.


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