Measuring Justice Needs and Delivery in a Pandemic

December 15, 2020

In June of this year, The Hague Institute for Innovation of Law (HiiL) surveyed 271 thought leaders in the justice sector about what it would mean to deliver justice during the COVID-19 crisis. Our goal was to collect real-time data about justice needs and innovative responses to the pandemic.

The thought leaders surveyed included lawyers, judges, prosecutors, NGO staff, academics, and justice innovators. The majority have more than 10 years of professional experience in the justice sector. Altogether, they come from over 20 different countries.

We asked these experts about the kinds of justice problems they expected to increase and the ways justice institutions in their countries were already responding to them. We also gathered their reflections on the justice interventions, innovations, and policy responses they believed were most urgently needed to confront the COVID-19 crisis.

Thought leaders anticipated a surge in justice problems related to the global economic crisis, including business problems, rising debt, and employment disputes. They predicted that the changing economy and emergency public health measures would put intense pressure on families and communities, leading to a significant increase in family disputes and domestic violence. All of this was expected to contribute to a widening justice gap.

As a group, the thought leaders were most optimistic about the potential for preventative, constructive, and informal interventions to prevent and resolve these emerging problems. Legal information and advice, assisted negotiation, and mediation were seen as more likely to be effective during the pandemic than formal justice interventions typically offered by the courts.

When asked about service delivery models, thought leaders anticipated that, while lawyers and legal procedures would continue to be important, community justice and other innovations such as legal apps, online one-stop shops, and online contracting platforms would be in particularly high demand.

These and other findings can be explored further in HiiL’s online “Delivering Justice in the COVID-19 Crisis” report, which includes interactive charts and quotes from the thought leaders themselves. Overall, their responses indicate that a more diverse and accessible portfolio of interventions—delivered online or locally in communities—is urgently needed to respond to the COVID-19 crisis and the new justice needs it has created.

A distinguishing feature of these real-time findings is that they are based on the opinions and predictions of experts rather than the self-reported justice needs of people experiencing them firsthand. This sets them apart from the results of the nationwide US Justice Needs survey, which HiiL and IAALS recently joined forces to carry out.

Between August and September, HiiL and IAALS surveyed 10,058 individuals across the U.S. about the justice problems they have faced in the past four years and their experiences resolving them. The survey is the first-ever study to assess the justice needs of Americans across all income levels and regions of the country. It is also unique in that it asks respondents to reflect on the extent to which the justice problems they have encountered are a direct result of COVID-19.

The results of the US Justice Needs study provide a rich and broadly representative picture of individuals’ experience accessing justice prior to and during the global pandemic. In early 2021, these results will be shared in a series of interactive reports that highlight their powerful implications for access to justice and people-centered justice delivery.

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