‘Small is beautiful, but scale is necessary’: front-line justice services in lower-income countries with the potential to scale-up

Publication: Policy Brief

This is the fifth in a series of papers on ‘Taking people-centred justice to scale: investing in what works to deliver SDG 16.3 in lower-income countries’ produced by ODI and the Pathfinders (NYU CIC). The research project focuses on practical, cost-effective and realistic ways to deliver sustainable justice services at scale and offers lessons both for lower-income countries and donor programming. The project runs until September 2023.

Key Messages

  • ODI’s pioneering analysis shows that front-line justice services – those that provide criminal justice defenders for pre-trail detainees; and universal access to community-based legal advice and assistance – in lower-income countries are delivering results and giving people access to justice. This includes in fragile, conflict-affected and oppressive political contexts.
  • The analysis looks at front-line justice services in 12 lower-income countries: Bangladesh, Democratic Republic of Congo, Haiti, Kenya, Malawi, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Solomon Islands, Somalia, South Sudan, Tajikistan and Uganda. The services address a range of justice problems and legal needs, including gender-based violence; land disputes; community disputes; and human rights abuses.
  • The costs per case achieved by front-line justice service providers validate benchmarks suggested by ODI: $20 per case in low-income countries and $50 per case in lower middle-income countries. With these benchmark unit costs, services have the potential to be scaled up. ODI’s analysis reveals for the first time how much scaling-up is required: coverage in most counties researched is under 5%.
  • When front-line services scale-up to meet more legal needs, unit costs go down, creating a ‘virtuous circle’. ‘Frugal innovations’ such as reducing the role of lawyers for basic and community-level services, using appropriate technology and low-cost transport, as well as early intervention to prevent justice problems escalating, all contribute to affordable unit costs.
  • The total cost of universal access to key elements of front-line justice is estimated at under $249 million a year across all low-income countries. This is 8% of current total aid to justice. Further research is needed on unit costs for front-line justice services, on the level of need, and on the benefits/impacts of investing in them.

Stay Connected

Join our mailing list to receive regular updates on our latest events, analysis, and resources.

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.