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Justice and Development Working Paper Series

The Justice and Development Working Paper Series serves as a platform for new and innovative thinking on issues of justice and development and features work from World Bank staff and from external authors. Justice and Development disseminates the findings of work in progress to encourage a more rapid exchange of ideas about development issues and justice reform.

Notice: The Justice and Development Working papers, including the current issue, are published with serial numbers. The former five publications came under Volume and Issue numbers, but the current and forthcoming ones would be published in serial numbers.

Justice and Development Working Paper Series Brochure  



WPS 27/2014 "Community-Based Paralegalism in the Philippines: From Social Movements to Democratization"

by Jennifer Franco, Hector Soliman, and Maria Roda Cisnero


Community-based paralegalism has been active in the Philippines for the past 30 years, and yet its contribution to access to justice and the advancement of the rights and entitlements of the poor has been largely undocumented. This paper attempts to provide a framework study on the history, nature, and scope of paralegal work in the Philippines, based on the experience of 12 organizations that are active in the training and development of community-oriented paralegals. The study first provides a working definition of a community-based paralegal, and then examines the work of paralegals, their systems of accountability or lack thereof, and issues regarding recognition by the state and civil society actors. It also explores facilitating and hindering factors that aid or impinge upon the paralegals’ effectiveness. A major contributor to the work of paralegals was the democratization process after the overthrow of the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos and the continuing evolution of legal rights spurred by the relatively progressive constitution ratified in 1987. Three dimensions of paralegal’s work are identified and explored, namely, building rights awareness, settling private disputes, and increasing state and corporate accountability. The study ends with conclusions and recommendations with regard to sustainability, monitoring and evaluation, funding, and the prospects for paralegal work over the long term.

WPS 26/2014 "Examining the Effectiveness of Legal Empowerment as a Pathway out of Poverty: A Case Study of BRAC"

by Akhila Kolisetty


This piece examines the current status of justice and dispute-resolution mechanisms in Bangladesh, ranging from the formal justice system to the traditional shalish (a form of dispute resolution), and focuses on the costs and benefits of utilizing nongovernmental organization (NGO)-led legal services programs as an alternative form of justice delivery and dispute resolution for the poor, with a focus on women and girls. In particular, this paper takes a closer look at the Human Rights and Legal Aid Services (HRLS) program of BRAC, a leading NGO that works to empower the poorest and most vulnerable in Bangladesh and eleven other countries across the world. HRLS provides a combination of BRAC-led shalish, human rights community based education, community mobilization through a corps of community-based outreach workers (known as shebikas), and recourse to the courts via a network of panel lawyers if needed. This paper will examine the successes of this model in rural Bangladesh as well as the challenges it faces in making an impact on solving the justice problems of the poor and contributing to gender equity. Ultimately, it aims to present a case study that illustrates the strengths and challenges of a legal empowerment model that is quickly gaining traction around the world.


WPS 25/2013 "Public-Private Partnerships in Prison Construction and Management"

by Rob Allen and Paul English


Over recent years lower income countries have shown increasing interest in the potential benefits of public private partnerships in the prison field. This paper opens with a brief survey of the history of prison privatisation, a description of the various models applied in different countries and an outline of the potential attractions of those models.  It then assesses the evidence about whether private prisons produce value for money and improved performance as well as analysing their impact on the wider prison and criminal justice system. The paper concludes that while specific evidence from low income countries is limited, there may be significant risks attached to private prisons where robust legislative and regulatory frameworks are less developed. The starting point before the consideration of private sector involvement in prisons must be a full analysis of the infrastructure and processes required by a country in its criminal justice system in order to meet international norms and standards and contribute to development goals. Within such a framework, community based alternatives to pre-trial detention and short prison sentences are likely to prove more economical and effective than prison expansion.

WPS 24/2013 "Developing Specialized Court Services: International Experiences and Lessons Learned"

by Dr. Heike P. Gramckow and Barry Walsh


Court specialization is commonly considered to be an important reform initiative to advance the development of a successful judicial system. Court specialization is thought useful even to address broader development constraints, such as the need for more effective access to contract enforcement, improvements in the investment climate, or more adequate protection of the environment. Studies from the United States, Australia, and other countries have shown that specialization can be helpful in improving the processing of court cases that are more complex or require special expertise beyond the law, such as in bankruptcy, the environmental, or mental health issues, or cases that must be handled differently to better reflect the needs of a particular court user group, such as business cases or family matters.

These studies have also pointed to some drawbacks, however. For example, special attention to, and the allocation of additional resources for, handling business cases can lead to the perception that a court provides preferential services to the business community but not the average person. In some instances, special courts have been created when the caseload did not actually justify the additional investment, raising questions as to whether the resources could have been better spent on improving overall court operations. In other cases, it was noted that judges who work on only one type of case may develop a deep but narrow expertise that may limit their focus and lead to a restricted view of the law, which may in turn lead to a reduced ability to consider new legal and societal trends that are reflected in other areas of the law. Judges may also develop too close a relationship with a particular group of lawyers and interest groups that are involved in special case types, especially if those groups are relatively small and if judges serve in this special capacity exclusively and for an extended period.

This report outlines the international experiences and good practices related to establishing specialized courts and creating the associated judicial expertise. It specifically highlights the information that is needed to determine if specialization is required in particular areas, as well as the specialization model that may be most appropriate, the requirements of the different models, and the approaches to training and selecting judges for special assignments. The paper also outlines the next steps a jurisdiction might take to examine the potential need and demand for further specialized judicial services and to consider what would be needed to meet those which are justified.

WPS 23/2013 "Caseflow Management: Key Principles and the Systems to Support Them"

by Dr. Heike P. Gramckow and Valerie Nussenblatt


It has become increasingly clear that courts across the globe must do more to better organize and manage their caseload and that automation alone is not the answer. In response to this need, caseflow management has emerged to become the central method of promoting greater court responsibility and accountability for efficient case processing. For over thirty years court case management concepts have evolved, starting in the US, spreading to other industrialized common law countries initially. Yet, for many judicial systems, the concept, techniques, and supporting systems of caseflow management are still relatively new ideas that need to be more fully understood. This paper helps develop a basic understanding of caseflow management by defining the concept, outlining the various techniques used, presenting in general the different case management information systems that support those techniques, and outlining the core steps a judicial system can take to plan for, select, and implement case management software. The aim is to provide an introduction for assisting judiciaries in developing a caseflow management approach that works best in their own environment.

WPS 22/2013 "Hybrid Justice in Vanuatu: The Island Courts"

by Michael Goddard and Leisande Otto


Island Courts have been in operation in Vanuatu since 1984. Official documents have hitherto provided little information on their practical operations or utility, and our preliminary research in 2010 found that not much was known at the state governance level about their real circumstances. In 2011, we conducted fieldwork research on five islands—Efate, Santo, Malekula, Epi, and Tanna—to provide better information on the practical operations of island courts and their use by ni-Vanuatu. We found that although island courts have the potential to provide a valuable service to rural ni-Vanuatu, a number of problems must first be addressed. Their resources and support networks need to be improved and a regularity in these services guaranteed. Networking with other governance institutions (including nongovernmental organizations [NGOs]) at the local level in the provinces could be facilitated, as cooperation among these institutions would be beneficial to all of them. It would also be useful to encourage the island courts to strengthen the flexibility and creativity that they are, of necessity, already developing, particularly in relation to matters of “kastom.”

WPS 21/2013 "To Whom Do The People Take Their Issues?" The Contribution of Community-Based Paralegals to Access to Justice in South Africa

by Jackie Dugard and Katherine Drage


Paralegals provide a crucial link to justice services and legal redress in South Africa,
particularly for the rural poor. Although post-Apartheid constitutional reforms guaranteed a broad range of rights and benefits to all South Africans, including the right to legal assistance, accessing many of these benefits remains a challenge for those who live in remote areas and those who cannot afford legal representation. Community-based paralegals fill this gap by providing dispute resolution and legal support that is both geographically and financially accessible and informed by a deep understanding of the social issues and everyday challenges facing their clients. Despite the prevalence and importance of paralegals in the South African justice sector, their role remains largely underformalized and understudied. This report seeks to address this gap by providing a broad analysis of the current state of the paralegal sector. It begins with a historical overview of paralegal services in South Africa from the apartheid period to the present. The study then maps the current state of the paralegal sector, and provides detailed information on the structure and function of key organizations that provide paralegal services. Through an analysis of twelve case studies of paralegal-assisted cases, the report identifies facilitating and hindering determinants of CAO functions at both the institutional and organization level.

WPS 20/2013 The Drug Treatment Court Concept: The Jamaican Drug Courts

by Stephane Jackson Haisley


The drug treatment court model (DTC) model was conceived out of the need to solve the numerous and intractable problems that drug-related cases create for court systems. A DTC is generally seen as a court that deals specifically with offenders who have committed offenses while under the influence of drugs and provides an alternative to incarceration. DTCs make use of a multidisciplinary team involving judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys, probation officers, treatment providers, police officers, and educational and vocational experts. The criminal justice and health service systems join to provide drug-dependent offenders with the mechanisms to recover from drug addiction and lead a productive and crime-free life. The purpose of this paper is to explore the concept of DTCs. After providing an overview of the origins of the DTC, looking at its roots in the United States and Canada, the paper examines the foundation and present-day experiences of DTCs in Jamaica. It also refers to some efforts among various countries in the Western Hemisphere to monitor DTCs and evaluate their effectiveness. The paper concludes with a return to the achievements of DTCs in Jamaica and a brief look at the future of the DTC program worldwide

WPS 19/2012 Estimating Staffing Needs in the Justice Sector

by Dr. Heike Gramckow


Justice system agencies around the world continue to seek adequate methods to estimate staffing needs. Especially when caseload rise and budgets are limited, the pressure is on to justify adequate staffing with solid data. The simpler approaches of basing staffing needs on number of cases filed or population numbers have proven to be imprecise at best and seriously flawed at worst. The search for better estimation measures first led to weighted caseload studies, which weighed the complexity and other special needs of different case types. As these methods still did not provide an accurate assessment, efforts continue to be made to develop a more precise measure of not just caseload but workload, a measure that factors in the time spent on managing the case and on the increasing amount of non-case-related work, such as administration, training, outreach, travel, etc. This paper describes the leading approaches (including the analytical, Delphi, and weighted caseload methods) used throughout the world for determining workload among justice sector employees, presenting the benefits and limitations of each. The paper then focuses on what is currently viewed as the more optimum method of the weighted workload study, and offers a step-by-step outline of how this kind of study can be developed and implemented. Also considered are the dual challenges of forecasting future staffing needs and incorporating performance measures to promote quality decision making and cost-efficient court procedures and services. 

WPS 18/2012 Court Auctions: Effective Processes and Enforcement Agents

by Dr. Heike Gramckow


This paper considers the historical origins and efficacy of enforcement of civil court judgments, with a special focus on court auctions. It reviews the procedural and practical options available to courts and associated agencies for the identification of assets that may be used to satisfy a judgment debt and the processes for court-supervised asset seizure and sale by public auction. The efficiencies of public court auction processes are considered, including the elements of enforcement systems that can produce sub-optimal returns on sold assets and higher incentives for corrupt practices. Also considered is the trend in some systems for greater use of private agents as a means by which the cost of court enforcement processes can be reduced and for overcoming sometimes lengthy delays in enforcement. The paper concludes by identifying alternatives to public auction that in some cases can offer better prospects of assuring full payment of a judgment debt.

WPS 17/2011 Can OHADA Increase Legal Certainty in Africa?

by Renaud Beauchard and Mahutodji Jimmy Vital Kodo


This paper describes the origins, structure, and practical impact of the Organization for the Harmonization of Business Law in Africa (OHADA). It analyzes the institutional framework created via the OHADA Treaty and the legal, jurisprudential, and functional challenges that OHADA Member States are still grappling with. Details of the nine substantive laws that have so far been ratified as uniform acts by means of the treaty have also been provided. The authors conclude that in making OHADA law effective, Member States face continuing and substantial resource deficits, institutional deficiencies, language ambiguities, and intransigent official attitudes toward the need for appropriate mechanisms for the pursuance and enforcement of OHADA laws and processes.

WPS 16/2011 Justice Sector Reform in Mongolia: Looking Back, Looking Forward

by Dr. Heike Gramckow and Frances Allen


The justice sector in Mongolia has changed significantly in the 20 years since the country became a democracy.  From the very beginning, the World Bank and other international partners have provided significant assistance to reform processes, particularly in areas concerned with the development of an independent judiciary.  Especially in comparison to other countries in the region, Mongolia’s reform efforts have been generally successful.  During the early and economically difficult times since democracy was established, reform activities naturally focused on legal reforms, including the creation of a legislative framework for democratic institutions, the transition to a market economy, and for needed changes in the relationship between the state and the people.  This was followed at the end of the millennium by concerted efforts to reform justice institutions and to improve human capacities for supporting, implementing and sustaining reforms.  Mongolia was the first developing nation to pursue comprehensive and inclusive strategic planning for its justice sector.  Its strategic plan has provided a roadmap for reforms over many years and withstood leadership changes in both the government and in the key justice agencies.  Much has been achieved, considering the challenges that have been overcome in terms of justice system infrastructure, human capacities and changes in attitudes, all with only very limited budget resources.  At the same time, reform gaps exist and public trust in the justice sector is lacking.  Critics continue to point to weak and uneven decision making capacities of prosecutors and judges, despite more than a decade of intensive donor support for their training.  This paper reviews some of the underlying issues affecting justice reforms in Mongolia; and points to areas that require attention to overcome the current shortcomings and challenges.

WPS 15/2011: Preventing Corruption in Prosecution Offices: Understanding and Managing for Integrity

by Dr. Heike Gramckow


Considering the essential role of prosecutors in upholding the rule of law and pursuing government accountability, the integrity of prosecutorial operations is of special importance. At the same time, this critical role also exposes prosecutors to certain pressures and can make them vulnerable to corruption. This paper outlines a range of special responses to detect, remedy, and prevent corruption within prosecution offices. While not entirely specific to prosecution agencies, the approaches outlined highlight the central importance of good management practices and a strong focus on preventing opportunities for corruption through effective policies and procedures, IT solutions, and transparent operations.  

WPS 14/2011: Justice Development Programming in Fragile and Conflict-Affected Areas: Perspectives of Two Leaders in Justice Administration

by Abdul Salam Azimi and Christiana Tah


This spoken presentation profiles the efforts of the Supreme Court of Afghanistan to produce effective plans for developing that court and the judicial system in general. It offers an assessment of the limits of financial assistance by donors in bringing about rapid improvements in the quality of the judiciary. It argues for the need to invest in the human capital of the justice system as the most important—though time consuming—strategy for overcoming poor judicial performance and reducing corruption in the justice system. It also explains the strategic planning processes of the Supreme Court of Afghanistan and the reasons why the court’s current plan deserves continued and sustained support from donors.

WPS 13/2011: The Hybrid Courts of Melanesia - A Comparative Analysis of Village Courts of Papua New Guinea, Island Courts of Vanuatu and Local Courts of Solomon Islands

by Daniel Evans, Dr Michael Goddard with Professor Don Paterson


This paper examines three systems of courts of justice, each in a different country in the region of South Pacific islands known as Melanesia, where state legal systems have been adopted from former European colonial governments. The systems discussed are, by comparison, "hybrid", each of them having been established with the intention of addressing disputes among small-scale social groups by less formal means or by taking greater heed of customary forms of dispute resolution. The paper applies a comparative analysis of these systems, covering their distinct history and the variances in structure, funding, personnel and jurisdictional coverage that impact on their effectiveness as state-sanctioned courts. Conclusions are offered with observations about the strengths and weaknesses of these hybrid systems and their potential for development as instruments of community-owned justice in Melanesia. 

WPS 12/2011: Alternative Dispute Resolution and the Rule of Law in International Development Cooperation

by James Michel


The role of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) in efforts to strengthen the rule of law is attracting increased interest in international development coperation. From a development perspective, the principal interst in this question is a concern for expanding the rights and opportunities for poor people who do not fully benefit from the protection of the law in their daily lives. Other interests in ADR, such as in commercial arbitration and court-annexed mediation in civil litigation, also have important positive implications for development. Facilitating commerce and expediting the disposition of lawsuites are valuable services and worthwhile undertakings. However, the principal focus for development is on the nonformal processes intended to expand access to justice. This paper briefly reviews the concept of development and related international cooperation. It then examines how the rule of law has been addressed in development programs and offers some thoughts about the contribution of ADR for advancing the rule of law and, in turn, contributing to security, well being and dignity.

WPS 11/2010: Surveying justice: a practical guide to household surveys

by Kristen Himelein, Nicholas Menzies and Michael Woolcock 


Though household surveys have long been an established part of development practice and regularly used to gather data on poverty incidence and the range of associated indicators, they have not yet become a common tool of justice reform practitioners. This guide aims to be a practical starting point for integrating justice work and household data collection, targeted both towards justice practitioners interested in survey design, as well as survey researchers interested in incorporating justice questions into their work. It provides guidance on designing a survey, suggested topics and questions, and ideas to facilitate a constructive engagement in discussions around justice in development practice.

WPS 10/2010Culture-based justice architecture : building community wellbeing through deeper cultural engagement 

by Philip James Kirke


Law and the culture of law find their expression in the many facets of the law's institutions. One of the most visible of these is the architecture of the places in which the legal process is enacted. Through architecture it is possible to communicate widely variant cultural perspectives on the rule of law. In contemporary Australia, an advanced and successful democracy, Aboriginal families continue to experience grossly disproportionate incarceration rates in the justice and correctional institutional systems, often in demonstrably inappropriate environments. Most commentators agree that a significant contributing factor to overrepresentation in these institutions is the high degree of cultural loss that Aboriginal Australia has suffered, and continues to suffer.


WPS 9/2009Access to Justice and Legal Empowerment: A Review of World Bank Practice

by Vivek Maru 


This paper reviews the World Bank’s existing work in access to justice and suggests directions for further Bank engagement in this area. Access to justice efforts are grouped here into six categories: court reforms, legal aid, information dissemination and education, alternative dispute resolution, public sector accountability, and research. The paper is motivated in part by recent discussions of “legal empowerment;” a thread of inquiry that runs through the review is: how do World Bank efforts to increase access to justice affect the agency of poor people? The paper concludes with insights and recommendations that emerge from the Bank’s experience. All justice reform interventions should attend to particularities of sociolegal context, should consider the specific justice needs of poor people, and should be planned not in isolation, but from a system wide perspective. Legal services and legal aid interventions should confront the challenge of scale, should consider alternative methods of service delivery, and should in some cases take care to maintain at least partial independence from the state. The use of noncourt dispute resolution mechanisms should be guided by the benefits achieved in cost, time, harmony, and fairness. Evaluations of access to justice programs should go beyond “headcounts” to demonstrate impact—on users of justice services as well as on society at large—and to weigh opportunity cost.

WPS 7/2009Taking the Rules of the Game Seriously: Mainstreaming Justice in Development The World Bank’s Justice for the Poor Program

by Caroline Sage, Nicholas Menzies, and Michael Woolcock


This paper explains the ideas and approaches that underpin the World Bank’s Justice for the Poor (J4P) program. J4P is an approach to legal empowerment that focuses on mainstreaming sociolegal concerns into development processes, in sectors ranging from community-driven development and mining technical assistance to labor-rights advocacy and classic judicial reform. It has developed out of a perspective that legal and regulatory frameworks and related justice concerns cannot be conceived of in terms of a “sector” or a specific set of institutions, but are integral to all development processes. Further, while there is broad agreement that justice reform and building an equitable justice sector is central to good governance and sustainable development, there is limited understanding of how equitable justice systems emerge and how such processes can be facilitated by external actors. J4P addresses these knowledge gaps with intensive research aimed at understanding the ways in which development processes shape and are shaped by local context, and in particular, how the poor engage with— and/or are excluded from—the multiple rule systems (“legal pluralism”) governing their everyday lives. Through three case studies of the program’s work, this paper illustrates how understanding the various roles of law in society provides an innovative means of analyzing and responding to particular development problems. The cases also demonstrate the principles that underpin J4P: development is inherently conflict-ridden; institutional reform should be seen as an iterative and thus “interim” process; building local research capacity is critical to establishing an empirically based and context-driven reform process; integrating diverse sources of empirical evidence is needed to deeply engage in local contexts; and rule systems are ubiquitous in all areas of development, not just the “legal sector.”

WPS 6 /2009How Do Local-Level Legal Institutions Promote Development ? An Exploratory Essay

by Varun Gauri 


This paper develops a framework and some hypotheses regarding the impact of local-level, informal legal institutions on three economic outcomes: aggregate growth, inequality, and human capabilities. It presents a set of stylized differences between formal and informal legal justice systems, identifies the pathways through which formal systems promote economic outcomes, reflects on what the stylized differences mean for the potential impact of informal legal institutions on economic outcomes, and looks at extant case studies to examine the plausibility of the arguments presented. The paper concludes that local-level, informal legal institutions (i) can support social substitutes for the enforcement of contracts, though these substitutes tend to be limited in range and scale; (ii) are flexible and could conceivably be adapted to serve the interests of the poor and marginalized if supportive organizational and social resources could be brought to buttress the legal claims of the disempowered; and (iii) are more likely to support personal integrity rights than the positive liberties that are also constitutive of development as freedom.

2009 Volume 2

Issue 2Justice without the Rule of Law? The Challenge of Rights-Based Industrial Relations in Contemporary Cambodia

by Daniel Adler and Michael Woolcock  


A significant proportion of the world’s work is done in contexts where the rule of law is absent or severely lacking. This paper describes one such context - that of contemporary Cambodia. Based on a literature review and interviews with key informants the authors find that there are opportunities to embed labor markets in regulatory frameworks, even at the periphery of the global economy. In such contexts, however, it is suggested that orthodox models of legal and judicial reform, which focus on drafting better laws and building capacity in judicial and administrative institutions for their enforcement, may not be the most effective way forward. Rather, the Cambodian experience suggests that the following were crucial in moving towards better protection of workers' rights:

  • Understanding the limitations of law as an instrument for attainment of rights absent independent and accessible judicial institutions;
  • Confronting the barriers to the establishment of such institutions (and being open to alternative strategies); 
  • Recalling that law can have a powerful normative force, even without direct enforcement; 
  •  Engaging with the way in which rights are attained through processes of social contest; and
  • Supporting institutional forums for such contests to be played out in ways which maximize the potential for the disadvantaged to take part and tap in to the legitimating power of the law.

Even adopting these strategies, however, it is noted that results have been uneven. In particular the poorest and most vulnerable workers are observed to have difficulty in extracting responsiveness from the sorts of systems described.

Issue 1Justice Versus Peace in Northern Kenya

by Tanja Chopra 


The conflicting relationship between peace and justice is frequently debated in the field of transitional justice. The obligation to prosecute serious crimes can contradict the measures necessary to reestablish peace among society. The predicament gives rise to a similar, though less obvious, challenge in many developing countries, where the formal justice system can be at odds with conflict management initiatives. Often, due to their inaccessibility or incompatibility with local socio-cultural norms, official justice institutions in developing countries do not fully penetrate the whole of society. In response, conflict management and peacebuilding initiatives have proven to be more flexible and responsive to socio-political realities. While such initiatives may be more efficient in reestablishing the peace between communities in conflict, they may contradict the official law. 

Current policy efforts and practices in the arid lands of Kenya illustrate this dilemma. Official justice institutions have proven too weak or ill-suited to prevent or resolve conflicts between local communities. To address the prevailing tensions, local ad hoc peace initiatives have developed, which operate on the basis of local norms and include local stakeholders. Given their relative success, some high level state agents have embraced the initiatives. The Office of the President is currently drafting a national policy framework on conflict management and peacebuilding, which is in part based on the experiences in the arid lands. Such a policy framework will ultimately have to deal with a similar dilemma known from the field of transitional justice: a decision between the establishment of peace and the application of formal justice may be required.

2009 Volume 1

The inaugural volume of the Justice and Development Working Paper Series consists of three papers on local-level dynamics of justice and governance in Sierra Leone.  These essays — one about the interaction between local councils and traditional authorities, another one about the power relations between youth and their elders, and a third one about false development promises - are the products of qualitative research conducted in 2006 and 2007 by the World Bank Sierra Leone Justice for the Poor team.  The papers aim to enrich our empirical understanding of the workings of justice and governance in the country.  The goal of Justice for the Poor, in Sierra Leone and elsewhere, is to employ such knowledge to improve development practice.

Background methodology paperJustice for the Poor and Understanding Processes of Change in Local Governance

by Ryann Elizabeth Manning 

Purpose and Summary

This short paper is meant to serve as an addendum to the series of working papers produced by The World Bank’s Justice for the Poor and Understanding Processes of Change in Local Governance (J4P/LG) project in Sierra Leone. It provides additional detail on the research methodology used by the J4P/LG team.

Research took place in 2006-2007 in a range of rural and peri-urban areas throughout Sierra Leone, which were selected to reflect Sierra Leone’s geographic, ethnic, and socio-economic diversity. (Very little research was conducted in the larger urban areas.) The research program was implemented in partnership with the Campaign for Good Governance (CGG) and Timap for Justice, and was carried out by a team of local researchers, who had received intensive training in qualitative research methods at the outset of the project and who worked under close supervision and support from international Justice for the Poor members.

Research was primarily qualitative in nature, using anthropological and ethnographic techniques, particularly in-depth semi-structured interviews and participant observation. The team did not conduct formally-constituted focus group discussions, but the nature of communal village life meant that individual interviews sometimes developed into group discussions. The main four research sites were in the Bombali (Northern Province), Moyamba and Bo (Southern Province) and Western Area Rural districts; in addition, team members spent time in another five of Sierra Leone’s thirteen districts (for a total of nine) during either the preliminary scoping research, core qualitative research, or in the administration of a study of local customary law courts. In total, original qualitative research contributing to this paper totaled approximately 83 distinct person-weeks of time. Core research covered approximately 31 villages in four chiefdoms, and involved at least 460 interviews with 360 individuals. Other related research, particularly the preliminary scoping research, involved dozens of additional interviews in a wide range of locations.

Issue 3Exploitation of Poor Communities in Sierra Leone: False Promises in Reconstruction and Development

by Ryann Elizabeth Manning 


Exploitation of poor villagers by fraudulent development practitioners is a startlingly common occurrence in postwar Sierra Leone. A recent research project found that virtually every rural community visited by researchers could recount an experience (and often several) in which individuals or organizations promised to deliver development projects and other benefits, collected money from community members under the guise of registration fees or beneficiary contributions, and then disappeared.

Community members almost never took action to find out what happened to the projects, to hold the individuals accountable, or to get their own funds reimbursed. (The few exceptions are notable and informative.) When asked why they did nothing, most gave a version of the same explanation: We are illiterate and poor, we don’t know the person’s name, we don’t know the name of his organization, we don’t know how to find him, we can’t afford to go look for him, and we probably won’t get any justice if we do. What would you have us do?

This paper looks at how simple measures could help minimize the opportunity for fraudsters to take advantage of communities, and make it easier for exploited communities to seek redress. Local councils and councilors can play an important role in implementing these measures, as can legitimate civil society organizations. The central government can monitor organizations, enforce regulations and codes of conduct, and deregister the worst offenders. Ultimately, however, it is communities themselves that must take primary responsibility for scrutinizing and holding accountable any strangers who arrive with briefcases, white jeeps, and big promises.

Issue 2: Challenging Generations: Youths and Elders in Rural and Peri-Urban Sierra Leone 

by Ryann Elizabeth Manning 


Local governance and justice in Sierra Leone traditionally have been dominated by male elders. Five years after the end of Sierra Leone’s civil war and despite evidence that the exclusion and marginalization of youths may have helped fuel the 10-year civil conflict, this dominance remains. Alongside that lingering gerontocratic tradition, however, are clear signs that youths in both rural and peri-urban Sierra Leone are gaining a greater voice and agency in their communities. Change is limited and varies dramatically from one place to another, but youths overall are more likely than before the war to assert themselves and their opinions and to challenge authority.

Nonyouth community members, in turn, seem to perceive youths somewhat more positively and are less likely to impose heavy sanctions when the youths challenge or resist their authority. Youths also have a greater role in community governance, through new or strengthened formal positions or through less formal consultation, though too often such participation is limited or only symbolic. Youths, particularly in urban areas, have also helped create a number of new political and social spaces through which they have achieved a measure of self-governance and greater prominence and voice.

For individuals and institutions seeking to uphold the recommendations of Sierra Leone’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission and other bodies that have called for reforms to make governance and justice more inclusive and representative of youths, it is essential to understand and build upon these recent trends.

Issue 1: The Landscape of Local Authority in Sierra Leone: How "Traditional" and "Modern" Justice Systems Interact

by Ryann Elizabeth Manning 


When elected local councils were reinstated in 2004 after a hiatus of more than 30 years, they joined a complex system of already existing local authority structures that draw their organization and legitimacy from a wide range of different systems and traditions—customary, colonial, and modern.  Findings from in-depth, qualitative research reveal that although the reinstated councils and other new “modern” systems have managed to establish a foothold in the local governance system, they are still not divorced from other, more traditional sources of power and authority.

In fact, the research confirms that chieftaincy remains the most important system of authority across rural Sierra Leone. Though criticized at times for autocratic rule, the chiefs retain a great deal of legitimacy in the eyes of ordinary Sierra Leoneans and indeed, often fill an important governance and justice gap between local communities and formal state structures. Researchers also found that “traditional” norms and systems are changing in relatively significant ways, and that “modern” interventions are engaging and interacting with other governance systems in a rich and sometimes unpredictable manner.

This process of mutual accommodation and adaptation results in a hybrid system—an interlinked network of institutions and individuals with overlapping sources of legitimacy—rather than a clear-cut duality between the “traditional” and the “modern.” Anyone seeking to improve local governance or otherwise engage with rural or peri-urban Sierra Leone should understand this environment and should seek to build upon the best tendencies of these various local authorities while limiting their worst.

Last updated: 2014-11-19

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