Op-Ed: Dry bones as opportunity (part II)

Op-Ed: Dry bones as opportunity (part II)
Allyson Maynard-Gibson.

By Allyson Maynard-Gibson

What do you see when you look at a scene that appears to be barren land/dry bones?

I see opportunity to build community, recognize our connectedness, transform our economy and pivot to people-centered justice.

People accept that investment in healthcare is essential. COVID-19 highlighted health equity that we are only as safe as the most vulnerable amongst us.

COVID-19 has also highlighted that credible justice systems must be affordable, accessible and people-centered. Chief justices and ministers of justice are aligning with the Task Force on Justice in its people-centered thrust. HiiL, an organization focused on “user-friendly justice”, has conducted research on “gamechangers” — action points that are scalable, affordable, accessible and promote people-centered justice. These will be discussed this week, from February 8 to 10, at HiiL’s annual Innovating Justice Forum.

Although I list seven gamechangers, I shall only expand on a few.

  1. Community justice services that deliver solutions effectively, through paralegals, justices of the peace, judicial facilitators, houses of justice or community tribunals, integrating formal and informal justice. Public health professionals recognize that there are not sufficient doctors or nurses to give basic healthcare. When we were growing up, aunties/elders knew which natural remedy could be used to solve any illness. These are the people increasingly called upon in remote areas to triage, administer vaccines and so forth. Similarly, paralegals, justices of the peace and trusted others, recognizing our connectedness, can be called upon to render basic legal services.
  2. Safe, verified and user-friendly contracts to the masses, ensuring fairness in families, at work, on housing and between small businesses and their key partners. Entities like LegalZoom recognize the importance of user-friendly contracts. Opportunities vary and include forms for filing business license returns, forms for copyright registration, contracts for goods and services, etc. This is not new. When you open a bank account or buy a car, you sign a contract. Before you have access to many websites, you click “agree”. Imagine the ability to fill in the blanks with the terms that you require in a contract then the service platform creates your contract. There is room for innovation and economic growth in this arena.
  3. Platforms offering mandatory one-stop dispute resolution for employment, family or other justice problems, connecting advice, negotiation, facilitation and adjudication in a seamless way, supported online. These platforms vary. Imagine a child maintenance dispute. We know that these can take years to resolve. What if parties were able to get online (or telephonic) advice on the strength and weaknesses of their positions and able to participate in a binding resolution of the dispute? People-centered resolution, for the benefit of all parties, especially the children, could happen in days rather than months or years. In the Netherlands, for example, Justice 42 helps couples going through divorce without unnecessarily escalating the problem.
  4. Problem-solving practices or courts, addressing the causes of the problem, focusing on containing criminal behavior, restorative justice and measured retribution for many types of everyday crimes. Our chief justice mentioned liaising with the Ministry of Social Services to determine whether this type of approach could be utilized in the juvenile courts. Young Bahamians, like Tavarrie Smith, have been working for years in this arena. Imagine “sentencing” a young person to a month (or any other period) of daily chores at someone’s home that that youth may have broken into. If you work around someone’s home and interact with them and their children, you get to know them and they get to know you. This type of “sentence”, with proper supervision and follow-up, restores community bonds and a sense of belonging.
  5. Claiming services that help people to access vital public services such as social security benefits or personal identity. On this I return to my constant urging that NIB (the National Insurance Board) should complete its in-house facility that would enable it to transfer benefits directly to people’s cards. Eighty-something-year-old Mrs Jones, from her home, should be able to apply for and obtain her benefits (using telephone, text or internet) and use her NIB card to obtain goods and services. No third-party service providers should be able to keep and utilize her personal information, as is now the case.
  6. Prevention programs or services to ensure safety and security supported by apps, focusing on violence and fraud.
  7. People-centered online information or advice, with follow-up services, assisting people to solve their problems step-by-step and in a fair, effective way, consistent with their legal entitlements.

Investment in these accessible, affordable and people-centered gamechangers would enhance efficiency, reliability, access and confidence in the legal system, reserving the services of lawyers and judges for circumstances where their specialist service is required. Also, they are sound investments because they check many other boxes, including ease of doing business, enhanced access to social and other services, second chances for youth and so many others.

Part I of this series can be found by clicking this link.