Strengthening Access to Civil Justice with Legal Needs Surveys

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The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) identify access to justice as a key target for inclusive and sustainable development. However, the success of the SDGs are often framed and measured through the narrow lens of criminal justice. This briefing paper argues that access to civil justice should be included in the SDGs measurement framework and legal needs surveys should be used to understand progress. Without access to civil justice, the global community risks overlooking the pressing legal needs that disproportionately affect the lives of the poor and marginalized.

Access to civil justice is a way for people to achieve solutions to their grievances and legal needs. Around the world, common civil justice issues include consumer rights, access to public benefits, employment and labor issues, land and property, family matters, and debt. Expanding access to civil justice is a key strategy to confront inequality, reduce poverty, improve local governance, and secure meaningful development for marginalized groups.

The first step toward effective access to civil justice is identifying needs. Many countries face difficulties with even assessing the unmet legal needs of poor and vulnerable populations. This briefing paper discusses methods to collect stronger civil justice data, which can meaningfully contribute to the fundamental vision, principles, and goals of the sustainable development agenda; eliminate poverty; and ensure no one is left behind.