In a series of short films, with artistic footage and dramatic music, the Open Society Justice Initiative is trying to make the case for the inclusion of ‘justice’ in the post 2015 era of aid and development. Are they convincing?
To me, while all these arguments sound good, they fail to address one important aspect, one which every policy maker and ruler has to grapple with on a daily basis: the opportunity cost. A dollar spent on legal aid, is a dollar that cannot be spent on primary health care. A dollar spent on procuring arms cannot be spent on buying school text books. It is not enough to just explain why investing in a fair justice system is a good thing to do - one must show why it warrants a reallocation of resources from other priority areas, in what will always, in every country, be a limited budget. So far, if one only looks at budget allocations around the world, the advocates of spending on health and education, not to mention security (of the military kind) appear to have far more persuasive arguments. We know this because it happens to be one of the measures that the Justice Audit tracks. So, what is the best argument for why investing in access to justice justifies using money that otherwise would have been used to increase the number of hospital beds, to boost teachers' wages, or to build a new highway?