Remarks by Angel Gurría
6 July 2018 - Riga, Latvia
(As prepared for delivery)
Ministers, Ambassadors, Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,
I am delighted to welcome you to this high-level session on Investing in Access to Justice for All. My sincere thanks to the Government of Latvia for hosting us today, and to the Open Society Foundations and Pathfinders for Peaceful, Just and Inclusive Societies for their close collaboration.
As enshrined in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable for Sustainable Development and in SDG 16 in particular, access to justice is a universal challenge and aspiration, and it is indispensable for people and businesses to harness their potential in full.
World Justice Project finds that across 45 countries surveyed, representing a mix of advanced and developing economies, on average around 50% of the people experienced legal challenges in a given two-year period. This figure reached over 80% in a number of individual countries, developing and advanced alike.
Many of these challenges, like finding it difficult to obtain public benefits, create further and unnecessary roadblocks, especially for those already at the margins of societies. It perpetuates what is called a cycle of decline, where even a trivial legal matter, if unresolved, can stretch an individual’s or family’s capacity and lead to further and escalating problems. Stress-related illness and loss of employment or need to relocate as a result of a legal matter affected 26% and 21% of respondents on average respectively. Our preliminary calculations, based on the world justice project database, indicate that the total cost of health and employment consequences of unsolved legal problems represents between 1% and 3% of the GDP of the different regions of the world; we will be able to share the final estimates over the course of the coming months.
While lack of access to justice is a universal concern, the particular issues can differ significantly from one country to the next. In OECD countries and high income countries, for example, the issue of access to justice is primarily about the lack of capacity of justice institutions to address legal problems for individuals and businesses, especially SMEs. In lower income countries, many simply don’t know how to take action, whom to turn to. Discriminatory laws, practices and customs, as well as technological, language and geographical barriers compound the challenge. An estimated 29% of all children under the age of five globally are still not registered at birth, a precondition for access to justice across one’s lifetime.
For the past four years, the OECD has been working with countries, experts and international partners to articulate the various challenges and to prepare an evidence-based business case for why countries should invest in access to justice.
This 2018 Policy Roundtable in Riga is moving the conversation further by sparking discussion and debate on how do we turn our commitments into action? How do we strengthen legal education to empower people to tackle their problems? Can we leverage new technology like blockchain and artificial intelligence to deliver equal access to justice? Most importantly, are our interventions having an impact and how do we measure it?
Advancing this commitment will be challenging in some contexts; and we might not have all countries on board. You will recall that the inclusion of SDG 16 was far from obvious in the initial stages of negotiations around the 2030 Agenda. Nevertheless, we must proceed boldly. 2030 is just around the corner.
The OECD is here to support you. As mentioned by OECD colleagues throughout the Roundtable discussions, we are proposing that a Global Hub in support of the governance of the SDGs be discussed at the High-Level Political Forum later this month with a view of a launch in 2019. The hub, hosted by the OECD, would provide tools, insights and expertise facilitated by an online portal for country experts to interact and exchange experiences on SDG governance challenges, including on access to justice for all.
To inform the Global Hub portal, we will work to deepen our evidence of what works, and you are a key part of this.
I look forward to hearing why access to justice is important for your citizens, the different approaches you are deploying to bridge the justice gap, and how we can mobilise international political and financial support to deliver better access to justice, for better lives.