Thoughts on the Microjustice Initiative

Based on what I wrote on Juripax that I first saw at the Liverpool ODR Forum earlier this year, I was contacted by May Britt to comment on a fascinating idea called the Microjustice Initiative.

An overview of the initiative is available here. There are some fascinating ideas in it, though I understand that it is still at a very embryonic stage with the full complexity of what they have embarked upon only slowly dawning upon its champions.

One reason I find this initiative interesting is because it can possibly use mobile phones in its dispute resolution / justice mechanisms to a far greater degree than many ODR systems currently operational. Excerpts from an email exchange I had with some of the Microjustice Initiative’s key thought-leaders follows (and was based on the initial concept note they sent to me):

To May Britt | 3rd September 2007

The paper, which I read through briefly, sounds very interesting and timely. I would submit, and I am sure you would agree, that the technical architecture required for the systems envisaged in the paper would be easier to design than the networks of community participation required for it to be (and to be seen as) effective and just. This is particular a problem in societies where inter-communal trust is abysmal, such as regions of protected ethnic conflict. Micro-justice in these regions are invariably tied to the larger social and political inequity – and addressing them on the ground needs to be done in parallel with larger systemic legal (constitutional) and political changes at the national level. As a study on ADR done by some of my colleagues at the Centre for Policy Alternatives found out, there’s a rich tradition of ADR in conflict zones, but the practice and promotion of these mechanisms is deeply problematic in violent conflict.

There’s also the question of gender – which I didn’t see directly addressed in the paper. It is often the case that even successful ADR mechanisms are in the control of and culturally primarily address the needs of men. The access to and participation of women in micro-justice initiatives I think is of paramount importance, but also tied to the particular cultural dynamics of a region / country / locale.

You may be interested in the two attached papers I wrote a few years ago on the use of mobiles and PCs in ODR at a very local level and also in the work of the Claro Parlade in the Philippines.

Email from Prof. Mr. J.M. Barendrecht, Universiteit van Tilburg | 5th September 2007

You are absolutely right, the IT structure is doable, the networks of community participation are much more critical. Our guess is that providing simple and understandable information about what fair outcomes are for standard disputes would contribute to making existing informal processes more just. Moreover we assume that a ‘business model’ can be developed in which local people upload local knowledge about fairness to a Microjustice website. But we need people who have this knowledge and have an interest in doing this. Much research and development will be necessary, and that is why try to involve not only NGO’s, but also IT companies.

I’ll be keeping my eye on this.

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