On Monday, the final round of discussions will get underway in Bangkok on the indicators to measure the Sustainable Development Goals that were agreed by all UN Member states in New York last month. The agreement from New York calls for the underlying indicators to “preserve the political balance, integration and ambition” of the agenda.
Target 16.3, as agreed in New York, is to “Promote the rule of law at the national and international levels and ensure equal access to justice for all.” The proposed indicators for 16.3, to be discussed in Bangkok, do not respect the ambition of the target as they both focus on the criminal justice system. Whilst criminal justice is important to many people’s lives – in truth, only a small percentage of the population comes into direct contact with the criminal justice system. Sustainable development is about much more.
Justice systems and the rule of law contribute to sustainable development through resolving land and natural resource disputes, keeping governments accountable, and giving businesses the confidence to enter into and enforce contracts. All of these (amongst many others) lie outside of the criminal justice system. It is important to choose global indicators that capture this.
We propose the following indicator:
“Proportion of those who have experienced a dispute in the past 12 months who have accessed a formal, informal, alternative or traditional dispute resolution mechanism and who feel it was just.”
This indicator gets to the heart of what justice systems do – which is resolve disputes. Disputes between people, between businesses, and between citizens and their governments. The indicator also captures criminal justice issues as well.
National Statistics Offices (and others) in more than 25 countries – in all regions - have already been collecting data for such an indicator over many years. A selection of these “legal needs” surveys are contained in this database.
Target 16.3 on rule of law and equal access to justice, has a much broader scope than just criminal justice. To faithfully reflect this, member states meeting in Bangkok should consider an indicator that captures the broader set of links between justice and sustainable development.