On Indicator 16.3.3 of SDG 16.3 – Measurements of Civil Justice

Menelik-Solomon-MamoAuthor: Menelik Solomon Mamo
Consultant and attorney, Ethiopia

Access to Justice, as a component of the rule of law, is comprised of a number of elements that at its core means that individuals and communities with legal needs know where to go for help, obtain the help they need, and move through a system that offers procedural, substantive, and expeditious justice.  According to the World Justice Project’s (WJP) report, Measuring the Justice Gap, 5.1 billion people or approximately two-thirds of the world’s population are faced with at least one justice issue. It is evident that the majority of these justiciable matters that individuals face fall within the ambit of civil justice. The fact that individuals, especially those from developing countries, are surrounded by these problems while lacking access to justice to deal with them, form part of the dynamics that create and perpetuate poverty and inequality.

Access to Justice has been one of the most recurring themes in development agendas. For instance, one of the most important goals among the 17 Sustainable Development Goals is SDG 16 which aims to, according to the official wording, “Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels”. The target for Sub goal 16.3, which deals with the provision of Access to justice for all, is measured by three indicators, namely:

  • Indicator 16.3.1: Proportion of victims of violence in the previous 12 months who reported their victimization to competent authorities or other officially recognized conflict resolution mechanisms.
  • Indicator 16.3.2: Unsentenced detainees as a proportion of overall prison population.

The above indicators exhibit a theory about the world in which access to justice is primarily concerned with the relationship between the state and the individual regarding criminal matters. Of course this relationship is crucially important: under human rights law, the coercive power of the state must be harnessed to protect the security of all equally, and because the state’s carceral powers must not be arbitrary and must be subject to the rule of law.


When the SDG indicators were established in 2015, civil justice problems were deemed too complex and ubiquitous to be included in the SDG framework, resulting in the initial adoption of two criminal justice focused indicators on crime reporting (16.3.1) and detainees (16.3.2). After a long and complex process, a new indicator 16.3.3 on civil justice was finally adopted by the UN Statistical Commission at its 51st session in March 2020. Indicator SDG 16.3.3 which officially reads as:

  • Proportion of the population who have experienced a dispute in the past two years and who accessed a formal or informal dispute resolution mechanism, by type of mechanism”.

The new indicator has been described as “people centred” measuring “the experience of legal problems from the perspective of those who face them” and providing a broad assessment of public justice needs by covering formal and informal legal institutions[1].

This indicator is computed by dividing the number of persons who experienced a dispute during the past two years who accessed a formal or informal dispute resolution mechanism (numerator), by the number of those who experienced a dispute in the past two years minus those who are voluntarily self-excluded (denominator). The result would be multiplied by 100.

The writer believes that these indicators do not best link justice to human development for at least two reasons. On one hand, calculating merely the number of people who have accessed one or another form of dispute resolution mechanisms does not measure the quality of justice services provided as factors such as low level of legal awareness on the part of demand side and inefficiency (capacity and performance) on the supply side, could be compromised the quality.

On the other hand, the measurements of the targets especially SDG 16.3. depends on the gathering of data which tend to be politicised. Therefore, whose data, government’s or data from civil society organisations? The answer to this should address credibility issues.

Therefore, constructing indicators to measure this broader vision of access to justice would entail the collection of data about the kind of ‘justiciable problems’ people experience, the full range of rights guaranteed under human rights law, the formal and informal institutions that exist to handle barriers to achieving those rights, and the quality of needed assistance in obtaining justice.

In conclusion, adopting a holistic (civil and Criminal) indicator would undoubtedly ensure that stakeholders such as policy-makers and development professionals get a better understanding of the legal barriers and capability of everyday citizens, especially of the poor in the global-south. However, in order to gather genuine data, governments, international institutions such as the World Bank, and local (grassroots) and International Civil Society organizations should collaborate. This collaboration would help mitigate the downsides of gathering data only from a single source (national Governments) as is being done currently. More weight should also be given to the quality of justice provision rather than putting an emphasis only on the statistics.

[1] https://devpolicy.org/author/kristin-bergtora-sandvik

About the Author:
Menelik Solomon Mamo is a consultant and attorney at law based in Ethiopia. He holds an LLB degree from the University of Gondar, MA in Development Studies, and MSW (Master of Social Work) from Addis Ababa University. He is also serving as a volunteer Executive Director of Advocates for Development, a local NGO which works on Legal empowerment, access to justice, and on the intersections of Law and development.

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