Discussion: Economic Case for Investment (Week 1)

This conversation is a part of the Justice For All campaign’s 10 Weeks of Action. Learn more and sign the Justice For All petition.

Sustainable economic growth and access to justice have a symbiotic relationship: without one, the other cannot exist, it cannot flourish. Without effective access to justice people’s potential cannot be unleashed. “The inability to resolve legal problems diminishes access to economic opportunity, reinforces the poverty trap, and undermines human potential and inclusive growth.” (OECD)


This week, first the first time ever, access to justice is a priority at the OGP Summit. Later this week, Ministers of Finance will meet as part of the G20 to determine the world’s development priorities. Today, grassroots justice advocate Nelson Mandela would have turned 100. Despite these momentous occasions, access to justice, and specifically grassroots and legal empowerment approaches, remain chronically underfunded.

Funding the activists and organizations who help people access justice is not just morally right, it is economically smart. Let’s take a look at two studies from this decade that help make the economic case for investing in legal empowerment.

Towards a business case for legal aid - Citizens Advice Bureau

In 2010, a cost-benefit analysis was performed in the UK to understand how civil justice problems and their downstream costs could be mitigated by advice. For ever $1 of legal advice spent on key public services (housing, debt, benefits, and employment), the government could save around $2-$8. Advice on these services had positive impacts on homelessness, poor health outcomes, work productivity, and client financial gains.

An evaluation of the cost of family law disputes - CFCJ

A 2018 study in Canada surveyed lawyers and clients and compared the costs of different resolution processes for family law disputes. Legal empowerment solutions like collaboration and mediation created a social return on investment five times greater than formal litigation. The findings of the study additionally suggested that, compared to formal litigation, legal empowerment solutions:

  • Took half as long to resolve a dispute;

  • Cost half as much to resolve a dispute; and

  • Achieved better results for clients.

Legal empowerment: a cost-effective solution

The studies above provide examples of situations where legal empowerment proved to be a cost-effective and cost-saving approach to several different types of social challenges.

Despite this evidence, grassroots justice approaches unfortunately remain chronically underfunded. All governments made a commitment to achieve “justice for all” by 2030 in the SDGs. The day the SDGs were announced, many sectors around the world saw new bold funding commitments. Access to justice, and especially grassroots approaches and legal empowerment, did not see a penny.


We’d love to hear from you! What are some examples of the economic case for investment in legal empowerment in your context? In what ways can we make the case to funders to invest more in legal empowerment approaches to access to justice?

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According to the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) funding for justice has decreased by 40% in 4 years! This is not okay.

What are some good examples of how you or your organization have made the case to donors to invest more in legal empowerment?

1 Like

Thank you for starting this interesting conversation @joonymoon! I agree, unless we tackle the underlying, systemic causes of injustice and poverty, we will never be able to create real, lasting change. Legally empowering populations and providing equal access to justice is key to moving forward societies and yet, governments and international donors have failed to deliver on this. In this recent article on The Guardian, 15 leading economists and Nobel laureates make the following argument:

"the real problem with the “aid effectiveness” craze is that it narrows our focus down to micro-interventions at a local level that yield results that can be observed in the short term. At first glance this approach might seem reasonable and even beguiling. But it tends to ignore the broader macroeconomic, political and institutional drivers of impoverishment and underdevelopment. Aid projects might yield satisfying micro-results, but they generally do little to change the systems that produce the problems in the first place. What we need instead is to tackle the real root causes of poverty, inequality and climate change.

@claremanuel and @MarcusManuel’s recent ODI study provides a rather shocking statistic on investment in access to justice, funding has decreased by 40% in just 4 years. This seems somewhat bleak, but their paper also offers solutions and next steps as to how this gap can be filled. Including:

  • developing a small-scale pilot pooled donor fund focused on SDG 16.3, available on a demand-driven basis to a limited number of countries. This would enable cross-country learning. It would also provide insights into the functioning of the system as a whole;
  • Undertaking exploratory consultations on how to achieve significant donor reengagement in low-income countries.

Additionally, there are a few promising signs that some governments are starting to wake up to the fact that long-term investment in access to justice key for sustainable development and economic prosperity.

At the Open Government Partnership Summit last week six ministers shared their experiences of reforming the justice sector and on finding practical solutions to make justice more accessible and affordable. They agreed to set up a working group within OGP to advance access to justice in the lead up to the 2019 High Level Political Forum. Argentine Minister of Justice and Human Rights, German Garavano said:

Justice is a way to give rights to people. It is very important that the justice system is open to the public, with open information and transparency for all, especially for the most vulnerable people. You can see more on his comments in this video

Earlier this month the OECD also released the Riga Statement on Justice for All. This was the agreed at the OECD Policy Round Table, an event hosted by the OECD Public Governance Committee and the government of Latvia, in collaboration with the Pathfinders and the Task Force on Justice. In a recent Medium article @maaikedelangen explains:

At this meeting, OECD Secretary-General, Angel Gurría, made a passionate plea for greater efforts to provide access to justice for all. A lack of justice could send individuals and families into a cycle of decline, he said, while the OECD’s preliminary estimates suggest that unsolved legal problems costs countries 1–3% of their GDP

He called for partners to work together for justice by calling for people to not lose the momentum here…we have generated a sense of urgency, a sense of emergency.

The Riga Statement Investing in Access to Justice for all! calls for concerted action at the local, national, and global level to achieve equal access to justice for all. Its key messages:

  • Put people at the center of justice systems . “We need to understand and meet the legal needs of individuals, communities and businesses.”
  • Injustice is costly. “ Unmet legal needs create direct and indirect economic and social costs to individuals, communities and the state. These can take the form of health impacts, unemployment, lost productivity, mental illness, family instability, disrupted education for children, and gender-based violence, all of which can impact the public purse.”
  • Business-as-usual won’t close the justice gap. “Innovative approaches are needed in the delivery of people-centric and tailored legal and justice services to meet diverse legal needs and empower individuals, communities and business. The use of technology, non-lawyers, sectoral partnerships and independent civil society models all offer potential in addressing justice needs.”

The full Riga statement will be published shortly on the OECD Access to Justice Website.

Namati’s @erinkitchell, alongside @maaikedelangen @peterchapman and @zazanamoradze were all in attendance and can provide more insights on the event.

We must continue to build on the momentum of these events and encourage more governments and donors to invest in legal empowerment and access to justice. Nework members in OGP countries should push for access to justice commitment in your OGP National Action Plans that help increase financing and protections for justice defenders. You can find out more by joining the OGP Access to Justice Group here on the forum. I’d love to hear from the others mentioned how best organizations can make the case for greater investment in legal empowerment - either to their governments or to other donors.