Does legal aid improve access to justice in ‘fragile’ settings? Evidence from Burundi

Imane Chaara, Jean-Benoit Falisse*, Julien Moriceau

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Access to justice is often described as key for building and consolidating peace and enhancing socio-economic development in fragile and post-conflict states. Since the 2000s, legal empowerment has been one of the most popular approaches to improve such access, and a growing literature has presented mixed evidence of mixed quality of its outcomes. We evaluate and discuss the impact of a locally provisioned legal aid program on justice-seekers’ use of dispute resolution fora, legal agency, and trust in judicial institutions. The program was implemented between 2011 and 2014 in 26 municipalities of rural Burundi. We consider its effects on 486 beneficiaries using various propensity score-matching methods and data on non-beneficiaries from two distinct control groups (n = 3,267). Forty-eight interviews with key informants help discuss judicial practices. We find that the program increased the use of courts but not trust in the judiciary. It had no significant impact on the use of alternative dispute resolution mechanisms. Qualitative and quantitative evidence suggest that justice-seekers’ perception of the treatment they received in courts, also known as ‘procedural justice’, shaped their perception of accessing justice. Qualitative evidence also points to a possible ‘watchdog effect’: in some cases, the presence of a legal advisor may have pushed judges to better comply with procedures. While legal aid programs can improve access to courts, it does not necessarily mean an erosion of judicial ‘forum shopping’ or that trust in state institutions is reinforced and rights fully realized.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Peace Research
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 23 Jul 2021

Keywords

  • Burundi
  • fragile states
  • justice
  • land
  • legal aid
  • legal pluralism
  • rule of law

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