Partnerships for Reform: Civil Society and the Administration of Justice

S Harahan, W Malik


The Partnerships for Reform booklet aims to provide a judicial context and criteria for new or evolving judicial-reform NGOs. It also examines points for the judiciary to consider when dealing with civil society. Universal experience shows that no single route or system exists in forming lasting and effective partnerships between the courts and the community, but that such links are valuable.

The courts are only part of a larger governmental and legal framework. Given the complexity, scope and power of this machinery, it is difficult but essential that ordinary citizens and civil society groups are involved in shaping the justice system. Among the findings in this booklet are:

  • Public confidence in and respect for the law is linked to how well justice is dispensed to ordinary citizens. Civil society groups can play a vital, independent role in communicating the need for adequate courts to the community at large
  • For courts and judicial officers to embrace change requires that they tacitly admit that the current system is flawed
  • While courts often cherish their independence, this may lead to isolation from civil society, which in turn leaves them oblivious to societal demands for change
  • Where individuals, business or other groups do become involved in law-related civil society initiatives, this is usually as a result of personal experience or self-interest.

Following these general findings, the booklet goes on to identify five common forms of civil society organisation: (1) Direct individual action; (2) single-issue organisations; (3) judicial branch-focused organisations; (4) university-affiliated organisations; (5)b usiness or legal sector hosted organisations. The pros and cons inherent within each are outlined. NGOs that focus on the judicial sector require good leadership, independence and adequate and stable funding:

  • It is difficult but important for NGOs to maintain their independence, particularly where they receive funding from a single source that may attempt to shape their agenda. Nonetheless it is inevitable that the NGO will follow the lead set by the funder.
  • It is important that the NGO is flexible in its source of funding. Maintaining a reserve to cover at least six months ordinary expenses is also essential and contributes to staff morale by reducing anxiety about the future.
  • NGOs must be realistic about their expectations: The operation of the judicial sector is based in historical, legal and social contexts that make it culturally conservative.
  • Where reform is achieved, it may take three to five years to achieve, and in the meantime there may be many pitfalls, compromises and reversals.
  • Sustainable reform requires the active participation not only of judges and court administrators but other actors (for example, the police, lawyers) and the whole of civil society.


Harahan, S. F., and Malik, W. H., 2000 'Partnerships for Reform: Civil Society and the Administration of Justice: Learning by Doing', Legal Institutions Thematic Reform Group, World Bank, Washington, D.C.