Theft of a car, relationship breakdown with domestic violence or government officials asking for favours; it happens everywhere. Similar patterns are present when people seek solutions for these problems. If a problem has a name and a tag, it is much easier to develop best practices and to compare these. In a country or across borders.
There are clear patterns in justiciable problems across the world. These patterns can be explained by the way human beings cooperate. They form lasting relationships such as families, communities, employment and land use, in which they invest heavily. They also enter into arms-length transactions when they buy goods and services or borrow money. From those governing them, they expect security and appropriate services in return for taxes and a cooperative attitude towards governance.
A classification of justiciable problems would not be new legal definitions, but just descriptions of problems as they are experienced by the persons that take action.
Classification will not be easy, because a justiciable event is closely associated with a need for remedies. A victim of an accident usually wants recognition, allocation of responsibility and compensation of damage. So is the problem the accident or the lack of compensation? But this is not unlike other areas of services to the public, such as health care, where a person suffering from a disease is also hoping that the pain will go away, that the disability disappears and that the risks of recurrence of the illness are minimised.
Learning from ISD and DSM
Classifying problems has proven to be very useful and possible in these other fields. The most common medical problems are outlined by the World Health Organisation in such a way that their occurrence can easily be compared across borders. The International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems (ISD) contains a classification of more than 12 000 medical problems. For mental health problems, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) has been classifying disorders since 1952 and international experts are now working on the 5th edition, due to appear in 2013. Social problems can perhaps not be equated to physical diseases, yet the development of a transparent classification of common problems, following examples from the medical sector such as the DSM standard classification, could make the commonalities and difference between justice problems in different localities transparent.
This type of analysis could structure the complex multiple realities of injustice into a framework in which we can test and seek new practical justice solutions. There is no medicine that promises health, or one pill that cures sickness. Yet, precise data on problems, their occurrence and factors that impact on their effect and social costs, can help to make a meaningful diagnoses and possible remedies. It needs little explanation that it is easier to think about a practical solution to an accurately defined issue than on a broad category such as injustice, unhappiness, oppression or violence. Perhaps a classification will never be perfect, neither in health care this will ever be achieved, but it may give us informed scope to trial new solutions, experiment and work towards better evidence of what is likely to work in practice.
Legal needs surveys already contain shortlists of problems that raised legal issues. Because respondents could mention additional problems, these surveys have rendered overviews of the most common problems for which people tend to address the legal system. The following list gives an impression:
Classification beyond individual problems?
A next, probably much more difficult step could be to identify problems for which people tend to take “collective action.” Many issues of governance are brought forward by groups of people who have similar grievances, for which some kind of representation is organized. Members of parliament, ombudsmen, trade unions, consumer organizations and business interests all need forums where they can ask for accountability on behalf of their constituents.
Another direction in which the list could be extended, is the accountability issues in and around the political system. Party financing is an obvious candidate. Although it may be controversial, accountability of the press for the quality of their reporting is a serious issue as well. For courts, some kind of accountability for the way they perform their tasks is also needed. The publications by Wikileaks, and the reactions to it, suggest there may be an accountability gap for foreign relations and diplomacy.
This challenge comes from the Trend Report Towards Basic Justice Care, Challenges and Promising Approaches, p. 59 ff.