Access to Justice: Legal Processes, Institutions and the Poor

The IDS Governance team developed new research into citizen security and access to justice for the poor. Citizen security is a growing field in development policy that encompasses a broad range of concerns, from pure ‘law and order’ problems such as civil conflict and urban crime, to classic ‘rule of law’ issues such as security of property and contract, human rights, and access to justice. These areas – particularly that of citizen security – connect with work developed under the auspices of the Centre for the Future State.

The Research Agenda of the project was based on the premise that the performance of the legal system itself shapes people’s economic and political decision-making, and thus the life-chances and development opportunities of the poor, in ways that are crucial for development. Two main tasks were identified:

  • How to explain why some legal systems are more legitimate, effective and accessible than others, and are able to provide a more predictable and enforceable framework of rights and obligations for their citizens.
  • Identifying the conditions under which change occurs in law, legal institutions, and legal processes.

Substantive topics planned included areas of both public and private law: 

  • Within the sphere of private law, research was developed on how land law, family law and the law of corporate negligence affect citizens’ security of property and livelihoods, and power relations amongst individuals and groups.
  • Within the sphere of public law, research emerging from work on conflict and public order in divided societies explored how the criminal law and the administration of criminal justice (including policing) affect citizens’ protection from crime and from arbitrary state action;
  • Also in the public law area, work was being developed on how law influences the processes through which poorer social groups acquire the ability to engage in collective public claim making, either by facilitating or protecting political mobilisation, or by granting rights and entitlements.

In the initial phase, a team led by IDS Fellows Richard Crook, Peter Houtzager and Peter Newell developed an international research and policy network of researchers and practitioners. This culminated in an International Workshop on the Rule of Law and Development held at IDS from 1-3 June 2000.

Future plans included empirical research work on law and collective claim making, land use and the protection of land rights. Work on citizen security has been developed in collaboration with colleagues at the IDS Centre for the Future State.

Project details

start date
26 January 1998
end date
26 January 2000

Recent work

Working Paper

Notes on Access to Justice in a Megalopolis: São Paulo, Brazil

IDS Working Paper 181

Access to justice has been recognised as a fundamental right that is essential for the enjoyment of all other rights. In Brazil this right is guaranteed to all citizens by the Federal Constitution of 1988. To guarantee the exercise of this right, the Constitution includes among basic rights, the...

10 August 2018