Legal aid as important for economy as hospitals and schools – claims new IBA-World Bank report

Sierra Leone Telegraph: 7 October 2019:

A new report from the International Bar Association (IBA) Access to Justice and Legal Aid Committee and the World Bank claims that, improving legal aid services is as important for economic growth as providing functioning hospitals, schools and roads.

The report, A Tool for Justice: A Cost Benefit Analysis of Legal Aid , is the outcome of discussions first started in 2017 about how increased access to justice can be a ‘win-win’ for businesses, the economy and society at large.

More than 50 cost and benefit studies of legal aid programmes from around the world were surveyed for the report, with evidence compiled from civil and common law jurisdictions in Australia, Bangladesh, Canada, Liberia, Malawi, South Africa, the United Kingdom and the United States of America.

IBA President Horacio Bernardes Neto commented: ‘The evidence is clear – improving access to justice benefits society and contributes to economic growth. I urge the international community to read this report and share the findings. In a world of injustice, it is vital that we work together to redress the balance.’

A Tool for Justice: A Cost Benefit Analysis of Legal Aid reveals that around 5.1 billion people – two-thirds of the world’s population – lack meaningful access to justice. Lack of access to justice traps people in vicious cycles of poverty, inequality and marginalisation. The burden of this justice gap falls disproportionally on the most vulnerable, including women, children, minorities and people with disabilities.

Lack of access to justice also increases the risk of conflict and violence within a society. Legal aid is a recognised way of providing access to justice, but the funding for it is often seen as a drain on state finances.

Aid programmes are most frequently required for cases related to divorce, domestic violence, evictions, homelessness and unsafe housing conditions.

Referencing evidence from a number of global cost and benefit studies, the report claims that legal aid programmes are as fundamental to economic growth as ‘high status’ issues such as healthcare and education. Not providing legal aid, the report argues, does not save money.

The cost of problems left unresolved by a lack of legal aid do not disappear – they simply shift to other areas of government spending such as healthcare, housing, child protection and imprisonment.

A study for Canada estimated the cascading costs of unequal access to justice on public spending in other areas (for example, employment insurance, social assistance and healthcare costs) to be approximately 2.35 times more than the annual direct service expenditures on legal aid.

Similarly, a cost benefit analysis of a domestic violence legal aid programme in the State of Wisconsin, in the US, found that each prevented incident of domestic violence saved US$3,201 in avoided medical care, mental healthcare, lost productivity, and property damage costs.

Georgia Harley, Senior Governance Specialist at The World Bank, commented: ‘Legal aid is undeniably good economics. Strengthening legal aid and related services increases access to justice and ensures that the rule of law is upheld. Most importantly, improving legal aid programmes saves government money and strengthens the economy in the long term.’

Cost benefit studies have become increasingly important as governments demand qualitative and quantitative data to allocate social spending more effectively. A Tool for Justice: A Cost Benefit Analysis of Legal Aid offers a practical guide on how to implement a cost benefit analysis of different policy alternatives. The guide offers governments and other policy-makers the tools to gather the relevant data needed to conduct their own cost benefit analyses of legal aid programmes in their jurisdictions. The ultimate aim is to support governments in allocating their resources more efficiently and effectively to close the justice gap.

Lucy Scott-Moncrieff, a member of the IBA Access to Justice and Legal Aid Committee who led for the IBA on the project and report, commented: ‘Unaddressed legal needs affect individuals, their families, the justice system, the economy and society as a whole. As a profession we must continue to champion legal aid programmes and ensure that everyone has the opportunity to access justice.’

A Tool for Justice: A Cost Benefit Analysis of Legal Aid was launched on Thursday 26 September 2019 at the IBA Annual Conference in Seoul. A video of the Showcase session: the economics of justice – using cost benefit analysis to demonstrate the economic returns of legal aid programmes, will be available to view soon.

Click here to download A Tool for Justice: A Cost Benefit Analysis of Legal Aid:

The International Bar Association (IBA), the global voice of the legal profession, is the foremost organisation for international legal practitioners, bar associations and law societies. Established in 1947, shortly after the creation of the United Nations, it was born out of the conviction that an organisation made up of the world’s bar associations could contribute to global stability and peace through the administration of justice.

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