Public governance

Leveraging the SDGs: Delivering access to justice for all


Keynote remarks by Angel Gurría,

Secretary-General, OECD

New York, Sunday 18 September 2016

(As prepared for delivery)



Mr. Soros, Ministers, Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,


I am delighted to welcome you to this joint OECD-OSF event, “Leveraging the SDGs for Inclusive Growth: Delivering Access to Justice for All”.


My profound thanks go to Mr. George Soros, for hosting this event with us. I count Mr. Soros as a trusted friend, and I speak for the whole OECD when I say that we see OSF as a most valued partner.


Welcome, also, to our distinguished guests and speakers.


Let me start by recognising the momentous achievement of the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals one year ago. Across the world, thousands of people – some of them here tonight – worked tirelessly to ensure that the ambition, the scope, the vision of the Goals were worthy of defining the development agenda for the next 15 years. Let us applaud this achievement.


Now, though, the hard work starts! In order to make the 2030 Agenda a reality, three fundamental things are needed: implementation, implementation, implementation!


At the OECD we work hard to play our part in implementing the 2030 Agenda. Our OECD Action Plan for the SDGs sets out how we’re going to help make the SDGs a reality: identifying evidence-based best practice, developing monitoring systems, and focusing on policy coherence in areas like climate, education, gender equality, labour markets and, of course, justice. 


For SDG 16, “dedicated to the promotion of peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, the provision of access to justice for all, and building effective, accountable institutions at all levels”, is surely at the very heart of the OECD’s quest for sustainable and inclusive growth.


The OECD made the promotion of more inclusive growth one of our key strategic priorities. We were deeply concerned by the fact that the top 10% of earners in OECD countries made almost ten times the income of the bottom 10%, up from seven times 25 years ago! And we were worried by the fact that these inequalities touch every aspect of peoples’ lives – educational outcomes, employment prospects, where you live, even how long you live!


So since 2014 the OECD has been engaged in making the case, building the evidence, and identifying what works in the fight for more inclusive growth. Access to justice is a central part of this, as also reaffirmed by the OECD Roundtables on Equal Access to Justice.


Access to effective forms of justice give citizens effective recourse if they are blocked from obtaining an education, discriminated against at work, or deprived of their right to health care. Justice systems are there to protect the vulnerable from abuse and exploitation, resolve disputes, and foster participation in just societies.


Yet, sadly, the reality is that many across the world still do not have access to effective justice:

  • We know that profound disparities persist across countries, with four billion people around the world living outside the protection of the law, mostly because they are poor or marginalised within their societies. The percentage of unresolved legal problems is as high as 40% in countries as different as Australia and Ukraine!
  • We know that the level of actual and perceived access to justice varies also within countries. For instance, in Australia, the prevalence of indigenous people experiencing a legal problem is 1.3 times as high as that of non-indigenous people.

  • We also know that solving legal problems is prohibitively expensive – For example, in England and Wales, the cost of unresolved legal problems can go as high as €2500 per person per annum.  Other studies show that in Canada between 42% and 90% of individuals who do not seek legal assistance cite cost as a reason. People are pushed into an impossible choice: forgoing legal support, or forgoing healthcare, education, or even housing.

  • And we know that the lack of access to alternative and cost-efficient dispute resolution mechanisms may undermine our efforts to promote productivity in the justice systems.

It is no overstatement to say that fair, affordable, and accessible justice systems must form the bedrock of more inclusive societies, and lead us to a successful 2030 Agenda.


More needs to be done to ensure access to justice for all.


Let me share with you three steps to make it happen: 


First, we need more evidence to deepen our understanding of the linkages between access to justice, inclusive growth and sustainable development. How big is this business case?


We need to focus on citizens’ needs and help leverage access to justice for transformative and inclusive outcomes on the ground.

  • For instance, a recent study showed that civil legal aid saved USD 116 million in shelter costs in 2009-2010 here in New York State alone!
  • Working with our partners, including OSF, the World Bank, EU, CEPEJ, the World Justice Project and the HiiL, the OECD continues to build more evidence on the contribution of access to justice policies.

Second, we need more measures and we need the right measures to better understand the extent to which people can access justice, and whether justice systems are capable of addressing their legal needs in a fair, cost-efficient and timely manner.


Finally, we need to identify what works, and spread it!


We can already see a host of best practices in OECD countries:

  • The US Interagency Roundtables show how civil legal aid can advance improved access to health and housing, education and employment;

  • The establishment of Maisons de Justice et du Droit in France is a one-stop shop service initiative for many legal, justice and social services, which also exist in Colombia, Ukraine and South Africa, among others.

Excellencies, dear colleagues, the SDGs give us a unique opportunity. The road to 2030 might be a long one, but the OECD will be there every step of the way.


It is in this spirit that the OECD and OSF invited you here tonight: together we will look to develop the measures, uncover the evidence, and identify the policies that will deliver better access to justice.


Together, we will work to make the SDG 16 a reality and design, develop and deliver better justice policies for better lives.