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Rule of Law and Access to Justice for All: A Key Goal for Global Development

As discussed in previous blog posts in this series, good governance and human rights are essential to human well-being, and should be included in the post-2015 global development agenda. Rule of law and access to justice are linchpins of these concepts.

Globally, the United Nations Development Program estimates that four billion people live outside the law's protection, leaving them vulnerable to abuse and neglect. Empowering individuals and communities to assert and realize their rights can ensure that the law protects against government corruption and discrimination, and gives a voice to the least politically powerful, who might otherwise be ignored. Rule of law and access to justice can also acts as a powerful economic lever, allowing small farmers and entrepreneurs the opportunity to protect their assets and enforce contracts. And rule of law and access to justice are universally applicable issues, in rich and poor countries alike, making these goals particularly appropriate for a global development agenda that aims to have far-reaching scope and relevance.

Although "rule of law" and "access to justice" seem like abstract concepts that would be difficult to measure, a simple indicator for the "access to justice" could be the proportion of the population who can access reliable, affordable legal advice should they need it, with "access" defined as living within three hours of a lawyer or paralegal provider (using standard available transit). Likewise, legal identity, as measured by the proportion of the population registered at birth, could be a reliable indicator for "rule of law." Birth registration is often a precondition for obtaining formal identity documents such as passports and national ID cards, and therefore determines access to a wide range of fundamental social services and benefits, including healthcare and education. The tables below summarize how these two indicators meet important selection criteria.

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The next post in this series tackles civil rights, political rights, and personal security.

This post is part six of an eight-part series the author is writing on post-2015 Millennium Development Goals.

This piece originally appeared on the Council on Foreign Relations Development Channel.

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