Executive summary

Access to justice is an integral part of the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. It is an important dimension of inclusive growth and the well-being of individuals and societies. Sound justice systems also underpin the rule of law, good governance, and efforts to tackle inequalities and development challenges.

Growing evidence highlights a complex relationship between unequal access to justice and broader socio-economic gaps. The inability to access justice can be both a result and a cause of disadvantage and poverty. Unmet justice needs can lead to social, physical and mental health problems, lost productivity, and reduced access to economic opportunity, education, and employment.

Unresolved legal problems prevent people, businesses and society as a whole from reaching their full potential

Legal problems - concerning family, land, employment, and community or neighbourhood issues - are ubiquitous; they arise from everyday life and are experienced by many on a daily basis. Moreover, legal problems often spark, and can lead to a cluster effect with other justice or social difficulties.

Legal needs are not exclusive to any category of citizen, household or company. Nonetheless, they tend to affect some groups of the population more than others, including women, children/youth, the elderly, the disabled, single parents, internally displaced people, and indigenous communities. Businesses also face specific legal issues (e.g. related to tax, regulation, employment or payment of invoices, debt and goods or services). These issues are particularly challenging for small and medium-sized enterprises, which may not have the necessary time and capacity to identify and resolve them.

Common barriers to accessing justice range from financial cost, time and the complexity of justice systems to geographical distance, lack of legal capability and language skills. Consequently, only a fraction of people decide to take legal action, with the proportion of unresolved issues reaching as high as 50% in some OECD Member and partner countries.

Yet, the failure to resolve even a trivial legal matter can lead to a cycle of decline with spiralling problems and costs to individuals, communities and societies.

Putting people at the centre of a justice services continuum

Leaving no one behind in accessing justice requires rethinking the traditional approaches to delivering legal and justice services, focusing first and foremost on responding to people’s needs. Services need to be “personalised” and responsive to the individual and the situation.

This report brings together lessons derived from people-centred service delivery, access to justice principles and indicators, and promising practices in the delivery of legal and justice services in OECD and partner countries. It identifies and discusses potential measurement tools and indicators to help governments and other entities carry out necessary reform and compare changes in access to justice over time and from place to place. The report provides countries with tools to ensure the justice chain responds to the needs of their people.

The OECD has developed a framework for ensuring that justice pathways and services are responsive to the needs of people. The framework consists of four stages, each stage addressing a key question:

  • Who experiences legal needs and what legal needs do they have?

  • Where and when are these needs experienced?

  • What works to meet these needs most effectively?

  • How should these services be delivered and evaluated?

The report sets out a series of people-centred service design and delivery criteria applicable to the entire legal and justice chain. Such service criteria include evidence-based planning, equality and inclusion; availability, accessibility, prevention, proactivity and timeliness; appropriateness and responsiveness; outcome focus and fairness collaboration; and integration and effectiveness. They serve as a starting point for continuous learning and development of evidence-based good practices to ensure that everyone has access to high-quality legal and justice services that meet their needs.

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