Justice for Resilience

There are many reasons why well-functioning justice systems are important. The Corona crisis made me more aware of its importance for resilience. Louise Vet, a widely distinguished ecologist from the Netherlands, said in a recent interview that our economies are aimed at reducing diversity. That makes us vulnerable, she said. Ecosystems can teach us how to do better. Resilient ecosystems are made up of many small connections. Each individual connection may not matter that much, but together they matter a lot. They create a fine web of resilience. A lot of diversity allows you to spread risk. If something goes wrong with one connection there are always many others that can take over.

Destruction of biodiversity is one of the contributing factors to pandemics. Lack of diversity of voice leads to tunnel vision and worse decisions. Uniform thinking also leads to worse financial results for businesses. It is the biggest enemy of innovation. Lack of political diversity undermines the freedom we all need to thrive as human beings but also leads to worse decisions and unstable transitions of power. In short: monotony is risky, diversity is good.

But diversity is always under threat from dominance. Big companies take over a whole market. The state wants everyone to obey. Husbands want to control all the money in the family. Businesses want to charge the highest prices without offering quality. One ethnicity wants to dominate the other.

Justice systems are one of the most effective ways with which to anchor diversity. They mitigate power; through an effective justice system someone in a weak position can get someone in a strong position to make a deal. Right is no longer might. A less powerful node in the system can remain as relevant as a powerful node. All voices are heard and diversity is maintained, providing a foundation for resilience, better decisions, and innovation.

To get there, justice systems themselves also needs to become more diverse, with more nodes. They are now largely systems by legal experts, for legal experts. The problem they have been created for is determined largely by them, as are its success indicators. If you say that a justice system is there to help solve legal disputes then that is how you will make it work and measure success. The main effort will then be directed at legal definitions, solving legal problems, training lawyers, and avoiding backlog. Not very diverse. If, on the other hand, you say that a justice system is there to maintain and develop trust and social cohesion and to support inclusive economic growth, then you will do different things. It will not suffice to educate only lawyers, focus only on reducing the case backlog, and not include prevention in your scope of work. You will have to make your system more diverse, focus on broader justice outcomes, and organize differently.

We can now see that resilient societies and communities are better a dealing with the Corona crisis and the economic aftermath. Countries with high trust and social cohesion levels are handling both crises better. That is clearly what we want justice systems for. As anchors for diversity and resilience, builders of trust and social cohesion, and foundations for inclusive economic growth. On 17 June, three justice leaders published an important plea to all ministers of justice of the world to get together to redefine justice systems to make them more people centered. That would be a good start. Let us strongly support them where we can.

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