For today’s advocacy, I will speak on two topics which I believe are inextricably linked: Access to Justice and Poverty Reduction. As a lawyer by profession, I have a profound appreciation for Justice and the power it has to transform society from grassroot levels, if respected and upheld.
Unfortunately, we have increasingly witnessed the scales of justice being tipped to favour those with political influence (I make this statement broadly without mention of the country, but I would bet many who read this would relate- that’s how disrespected justice has become). Devastatingly, at the other end of the scale are the citizenry who get subjected to the negative ripple effects such as poverty. [Read Joesphine’s post on Accountability & Justice as she highlights the notable inequalities between the ordinary man and those in positions of power and influence: https://joseyphina.wordpress.com/2021/06/09/wbc-advocacy-3-accountability-justice/ ]
This blog post will highlight how access to justice contributes to poverty reduction.
Goal 16 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) seeks to “promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels.”
What is justice?
The term justice has diverse meanings, this is because justice is a multidisciplinary phenomenon and aspects of justice can be traced in various sectors of the society- it is not peculiar to just one discipline . In fact, it is generally agreed that justice is an ever changing, subjective process of assessing fairness of relations between individuals and groups of people . This means that, there is no uniform set standard to measure what justice really entails. Different societies, cultures and religious systems have varying understandings of what amounts to justice. That notwithstanding, justice has been defined as a fair and proper administration of law .
What is poverty?
Poverty refers to a core set of human deprivations or a state of being by which one lacks a certain amount of material possessions or money. It can apply to an individual, a group of people, a nation or a whole region. Poverty can be identified from three perspectives: the income perspective; the basic needs perspective and the capability functioning perspective. The World Bank explains that, the income perspective entails that poverty is measured by comparing an individual’s income or consumption with some defined threshold below which they are considered poor. The basic needs perspective asks whether people are able to obtain basic needs such as: food, shelter, health care and education, failure to which they are considered poor. The capability functioning perspective is said to be the broadest approach to well-being, it is argued to come from the “capability” to function in society, in this light, poverty arises when people lack key capabilities.
How can Access to Justice reduce Poverty?
Access to justice is a basic principle of the rule of law. It is generally understood to be the ability of people to seek and obtain a remedy through institutions of justice and in conformity with human rights standards. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has guided that, “access to justice must be defined in terms of ensuring that legal and judicial outcomes are just and equitable”. In the absence of access to justice, people are unable to have their voice heard, exercise their rights, challenge discrimination or hold decision-makers accountable.
The following are the ways in which access to justice can lead to poverty reduction:
- Defeating structural inequalities
At the heart of poverty is deprivation, as such, poverty can be reduced when deprivation is reduced.
By being able to access justice, people living n poverty can defeat existing structural inequalities that negatively impact their ways of life. The ability of people to ‘fight’ for what belongs to them and challenge systems of oppression through the courts of law is another significant way in which poverty can be reduced by access to justice.
For justice to be accessible, ordinary courts must administer the law without partiality between governmental officials or other influential people and ordinary citizens. The law should be applied universally without the influence of political or economic privileges.
2. Empowerment of poor people through adequate sensitization and accessibility of legal services
One of the undisputed barriers to access to justice for poor people is the high costs associated with legal representation and court fees. As such, if deliberate policies are put in place to ensure free or affordable access to legal representation there would be a bridge between access to justice and poverty
Furthermore, measures must be put in place to ensure citizens know their rights and do not face discrimination of any kind along the judicial process. .
3. Leveling the economic ‘playing field’ by formulation or amendment of local laws to ensure non-discrimination
Poverty as a multi-faceted principle ambits various marginalized groups such as: women, children, persons with disabilities and other minority groups. Historically, archaic laws functioned to discriminate marginalized groups in instances of employment and other economic activities that function to defeat poverty.
In light of this, the World Bank Group reports that, 82% of people living in extreme poverty in Africa live in rural areas and that most are women because of the persistent inequality between men and women which makes poverty reduction difficult.
Notably, with the amendment of various laws in most countries to be more inclusive, there has been a shift in the poverty status of the marginalized groups. For instance, Barbara Murray, a senior disability specialist with the International Labour Organisation when commenting on the disability employment, social policy, inclusion and impact of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) commented that there have been a number of new approaches developed in the employment that help people with disabilities to move from a segregated setting to the more open labour market.
4. Preserving revenue of a country by strengthening laws that curb crimes against the economy
The relationship between strong laws and economic development leading to poverty reduction cannot be overemphasized. Critical systems of the nation which have a direct impact on the livelihood of the people are regulated by legislation. A practical example is tax legislation. Tax laws are critical as they are the vehicle through which countries collect and redistribute revenue for the benefit of everyone. When administered well, there will be little to no disputes related to revenue collection and equitable distribution towards developmental projects. Further, if legislation such as tax legislation is comprehensible and easy to understand it reduces instances of conflict and possibilities of tax evasion.
Furthermore, having stringent legal measures that protects the economy from crimes such as illicit financial flows that have a direct negative bearing on the economy is a way in which access to justice can reduce poverty and support economic development.
In conclusion, I really hope to see an Africa that fully embraces the recommendations set out above. I hope to see countries where justice is fully accessible and in turn, poverty reduced.
Side Note: I appreciate that this week has allowed me to use a voice that is different from my usual poetry lol.
Read my detailed article on this topic, which was published by the International Bar Association here: https://img1.wsimg.com/blobby/go/7fff2966-0ef5-4dce-81f8-6c7577f37a0c/downloads/IBAFLexlead-annual-scholarship-2019-winners%20(3.pdf?ver=1621261289690
Read on & Live long!