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A role for justice in poverty alleviation: The World Bank’s new strategy for justice reform

Christina Biebesheimer's picture

We know justice matters in development. Barriers to access to justice are a central dimension of poverty and an effective justice system is essential in ensuring a capable and accountable state. Across the world people strive to live in fair societies, where power is not exercised arbitrarily and fundamental rights are respected. 

Justice systems—or the formal and informal institutions that address breaches of law and facilitate peaceful contests over rights and obligations—are critical in responding to these aspirations. Justice systems ensure effective delivery of health, education or other social services by allocating entitlements and providing avenues for citizens to seek redress in the event of a breach. They promote executive accountability, deter arbitrary decision-making and advance equality. They are the rules of the game that underpin activities of the private sector and promote growth. Justice systems mitigate conflict, deter and punish criminal activity and provide outlets for the redress of grievance.

After more than a year of consultations with partners inside and outside the World Bank, we are pleased to announce the release of New Directions in Justice Reform.  New Directions represents the World Bank’s first institution-wide approach to justice reform and was developed as a collaboration between the Poverty Reduction and Economic Management Vice Presidency (PREM) and the Legal Vice Presidency (Legal VPU).  The strategy serves as a companion to the Bank’s Updated Governance and Anticorruption Strategy–Strengthening Governance: Tackling Corruption.

New Directions establishes five priorities for the Bank’s work in justice reform.  Our approach does not suggest that we have a blueprint for success; instead it recognizes that progress in justice reform is marked by uncertainty and contestation.  Our strategy will support the development of adaptive and iterative approaches that respond to the needs of our clients to promote fair and accessible justice systems. Our five priority areas include:

  • Supporting a problem-solving and empirically-based approach to justice reform.  Our approach is anchored in the needs of end users and focuses on actual realizations and accomplishments rather than transplanting predetermined ‘right’ rules or institutional forms.
  • Identifying flagship justice reform initiatives as sites of learning and innovation.  Our flagship projects will focus on strengthening the human resources of justice institutions, incorporating the experience of local justice institutions into national policy dialogue, increasing the application of public sector management expertise across the justice system, supporting outcomes measured in terms of equity, inclusion and accountability, and on building the capacity of the Bank to respond to the needs of clients in criminal justice reform.
  • Integrating justice reform into Bank operations and analytical and advisory activities.  We will build on existing work, including that of the Justice for the Poor program, to integrate justice reform into development programs and processes, particularly around service delivery and natural resource governance.
  • Focusing on justice reform in fragile and conflict-affected states (FCS).  Our strategy will respond to the key messages of the 2011 World Development Report on Conflict and Fragility, to explore strategies that support best fit, fragility-focused approaches to justice reform in FCS.
  • Developing organizational structures that strengthen the Bank’s ability to deliver on justice reform.  The Legal VPU and PREM will jointly coordinate a reinvigorated community of practice on justice to leverage expertise to respond to client and Bank demands.

With New Directions we’re committed to partnering with others around the world to refine innovative strategies to justice reform.  At the World Bank we’re “working for a world free of poverty,” and we now have a strategy which acknowledges the central role justice plays in this mission.  We invite you to join us.   
 

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