Ambitious SDG Goal Confronts Challenging Realities: Access to Justice is still Elusive for Many Africans

Access to justice for all citizens has long been recognized as a cornerstone of democracy, good governance, and effective and equitable development. Its centrality has recently been highlighted in the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal. Citizens report a number of serious barriers to access to justice. Most significantly, the perception that cases move too slowly through the courts is widespread. But other hurdles – including costs, corruption, the complexity of legal processes, lack of legal counsel, and concerns about court fairness – also emerge as significant impediments to access in many countries. We will begin with a discussion of public confidence in the courts and popular commitment to the rule of law. We will then explore contact rates, asking why some people avoid the courts and then focusing in on the specific experiences of those who had direct contact with the courts. Finally, we will develop a loose ranking system for the quality and extent of access to justice across the continent and evaluate how a range of factors – including region, level of democracy, colonial legacy, and experience of conflict – appear to undermine or support access to justice in each country.