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Efforts to measure the rule of law trigger a process of clarifying how the rule of law impacts people's lives. Accountability emerges as a key element of the rule of law. Nowadays, accountability is created through courts and by countless other forums, including the court of public opinion. Legal pluralism is common: the standards for accountability can be norms from local, national and international levels, set by public or private organizations, formal as well as informal. Measuring the status and progress in the field of rule of law would then require investigating what these accountability mechanisms jointly produce, working together and competing with each other. But how can this be established?
Inspired by developments in the health care sector, this paper suggests focusing on specific problems and the way they are resolved. Legal needs studies and crime surveys suggest a classification of problems for which accountability is frequently sought. This can be extended to other areas of governance. These studies also gather data about the incidence of problems and which forums are actually addressed for accountability. Sophisticated client satisfaction surveys now monitor whether this leads to fair and acceptable results. Evidence based treatments for some legal problems are also developing. The rule of law in a country may eventually be measured as the capacity to prevent and resolve the most urgent problems. Interventions can focus on specific, urgent problems, opt for the best available ‘treatments’ and measure progress systematically.
Legal problems and justice needs are similar in different jurisdictions and different locations. Processes for resolving them, as well as rules determining outcomes, however, vary widely. Measuring the price (costs) and quality of such ‘paths to justice’ from the perspective of the user is likely to enhance users' choice, enable comparison and learning, to increase transparency, and to create incentives for improving access to justice. This paper discusses the contours of a methodology for this purpose and of some concrete tools for measuring costs, procedural quality, and outcome quality. Conceptualization of a path to justice, criteria and items included in the measurement framework, as well as different data collection methods, are presented. Experiences from two pilot studies give insight into the challenges that lie ahead, and in the potential uses of the (developing) measurement methodology.
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