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The importance of Access to Justice.

Access to justice is the foundation for building a society marked by inclusivity and sustainability. The law is the bedrock of society, which empowers people to act, participate and shape the world. 



A Future of Justice Inclusion: Examining Access to Justice in South Africa through the ‘Et

Access to Justice through Poetry

In this film, access to justice was explored through the use of poetry. Submissions from South African poets were thematically coded to contextualise the current data on the justice experience. These are the stories we tell ourselves and others. These are the narratives we pass down that shape an intergenerational interaction with the law. These are the ideas that influence how, why and when we interact with the law.

The poems are performed by Devonecia Swartz, Cintaine Schutte and Sanda Shandu.Thank you to these poets for sharing their work: Harry Owen - Say Something Khanyi Mathayi - Are Our Bodies the Sin? Thulani Ndzotyana - A Future for South Africa Katleho Khaola - Tomorrow Reimagined Sandile Yenge - everybody has a dream and I have plenty Derrick Thulani Ndlovu - Biased Justice Shanice Ndlovu - Common Sense Noma Bota - Gone are the Days Li-fen Chien - Hope is Contagious Andile Nayika - A Dream of the Southern Shores Zizipho Bam - A Metaphor of Africa

Measuring Access to Justice

Measuring access to justice is tricky because people see it in many different ways. Despite this, there's a push, inspired by goals like SDG16, to gather more data on what access to justice really looks like today. This effort has faced challenges, as the data we have isn't always easy to compare. It's vital to figure out exactly what we should be measuring and how, to get a clear picture of access to justice worldwide. ​ Opening up data in the justice sector is key for making things more transparent and fighting corruption. By measuring access to justice, we aim to make the flow of justice more visible, promoting accountability and transparency in a sector often held back by conservative values and a lack of accountability. These efforts focus on identifying where access to justice is lacking, evaluating legal systems' performance, and ensuring reforms make a real difference. For example, the World Justice Project creates an annual Rule of Law Index, looking at 128 countries across several factors to understand better where gaps exist. This includes estimating the "justice gap," which they define as people with at least one unmet justice need, affecting an estimated 5.1 billion people.

Justice Pathways

Exploring diverse "pathways to justice" represents a shift from the traditional, narrowly defined access to legal channels towards a broad spectrum of avenues enhancing justice access. Supporting these pathways allow more people to access justice, creating more justice equity. Some of these pathways include: ​ Traditional Pathways: Depend on licensed legal professionals within a regulated framework, often criticised for elitism and inaccessibility. Informal Pathways: Provide alternative solutions like community mediation and paralegal services to bypass the barriers of the traditional system. Emerging Pathways: Harness technology and innovation to bridge justice gaps, making legal help more accessible. Pathways to Peace: Concentrate on resolving conflicts through non-adversarial means. Social Justice Lawyering: Focus on advocating for social justice and equity, emphasising the role of legal professionals in societal change. Advancing access to justice goes beyond reforming legal systems; it involves empowering individuals to actively participate in the legal landscape, fostering societal engagement and legislative evolution. This empowerment ensures justice reform is not only about efficiency and accessibility but also about creating societal stability through trust in legal institutions.

Access to Justice in South Africa

Access to justice is a cornerstone of good governance and sustainable development,[1] underpinned by Section 9 of the South African Constitution,[2] which enshrines equality and anti-discrimination to ensure equal justice for all. It aligns with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 16, advocating for transparent and accessible justice at all levels.[3] Such aspirations necessitate a comprehensive reform of the justice system to cater to every individual, irrespective of socioeconomic status, through legal remedies, protection, and the evaluation of dispute resolution mechanisms.[4] ​ However, the reality of justice access in South Africa is complicated by numerous barriers, including poverty, marginalisation, gender bias, and racial discrimination.[5] These barriers expose people to varying degrees of injustice.[6]It is further compounded by issues like limited legal awareness, inadequate legal aid, and delays in justice administration, all of which hinder the theoretical accessibility of justice.[7] ​ Given these challenges and the crucial role of justice in empowering individuals to challenge injustices and partake in legal processes, there is a pressing need for a critical reassessment of the prevailing assumptions about access to justice.[8] This revaluation is essential, especially considering the high levels of inequality that affect South Africans’ experiences with justice.


[1] F Fagbemi and others ‘Interconnections between governance and socioeconomic conditions: Understanding the challenges in sub-Saharan Africa’ (2021) Regional Sustainability 337 at 338.

[2] Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996.

[3] KR Hope Sr ‘Peace, justice and inclusive institutions: overcoming challenges to the implementation of Sustainable Development Goal 16’ (2020) 32 Global Change, Peace & Security 57 at 62. 

[4] A call for reform is well evidenced in the literature, by the OECD, UN and various bodies working towards equitable justice in line with SDG 16, see for instance the Task Force on Justice ‘Justice for all – Final report’ (2019) (accessed 10 March 2024); World Justice Project ‘Measuring the justice gap’ (2019) (accessed 10 March 2024); The Hague Institute for Innovation of Law ‘Charging for justice 16.3 trend report’ (2020) 10 March 2024).

[5] Para 8-9 in Soobramoney v Minister of Health 1997 12 BCLR 1696 (CC). 

[6] J Brankovic and others Violence, inequality and transformation: Apartheid survivors on South Africa's ongoing transition (2020). Also see P Gready & R Simon From transitional to transformative justice (2019).

[7] M Nyenti ‘Access to justice in the South African social security system: Towards a conceptual approach’ (2013) 46 De Jure 901; L Greenbaum ‘Access to justice for all: A reality or unfulfilled expectations?’ (2020) 53 De Jure 248.

[8] South African Law Reform Commission ‘Investigation into legal fees’ Issue Paper 36 (2019). 

Access to justicecs is deeply embedded in centuries of political, philosophical, and policy discussions, advocating for the right of every individual to claim their due rights and entitlements, extending well beyond the confines of the traditional legal system.

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