Are judicial reforms worth doing? It turns out, we cannot be sure, but we have a story to tell about a reform, its impact, and the impact of having measured that impact.
Madame Ngetsi wanted to start a business in the Democratic Republic of Congo. What was her first step was in making her dreams a reality? Did she go to a bank for a loan, a notary to formalize her documentation, or the company registry to register her company? In fact, her first stop was to go to her husband to get legal permission to start her business. By law, Madame Ngetsi has to have written legal permission to register a business, formalize a document, open a bank account, and register land—a requirement that doesn’t apply to her husband.
In Sierra Leone's rainy season, the Sewa River, feared by many locals for its powerful currents, floods over its banks separating entire villages from basic services. Konta health clinic in Kenema district operates near the shores of the Sewa, and during the six-month rainy season, five of Konta’s 17 dependent villages cannot access the clinic. If women in those villages give birth during the rains, they entrust care to traditional birth attendants; if children fall ill, they turn to traditional medicine, stockpiled drugs, and, often, prayer. As one woman explained during a recent community meeting in Konta, these are the only options, even if the all-too-frequent consequence is death. Hearing her account, it’s difficult not to feel a strong sense of injustice, even in an incredibly resource-constrained country like Sierra Leone. But is there a role for the law in remedying this situation?
Literary writers do not think much of the law. In the last century, Anatole France wrote, mordantly: “The majestic equality of the laws prohibits the rich and the poor alike from sleeping under bridges, begging in the streets and stealing bread.” More recently, Aarvind Adiga says, “The jails of Delhi are full of drivers who are there behind bars because they are taking the blame for their good, solid middle-class masters. . . . The judges? Wouldn't they see through this obviously forced confession? But they are in the racket too. They take their bribe, they ignore the discrepancies in the case. And life goes on.”