City Research Online

Understanding and engaging informal justice

Swenson, G. (2016). Understanding and engaging informal justice. The Hague: Clingendael Institute.


Engagement with informal justice systems in developing countries has emerged as a major policy priority for donor nations such as the Netherlands. This interest reflects practical realities. After all, in the developing world, an estimated eighty to ninety per cent of disputes are handled outside the state justice system (Albrecht and Kyed 2010: 1). In countries with weak institutions or that are prone to conflict, informal justice can be particularly prominent because state courts cannot or will not consistently uphold the law. Thus, engagement with informal justice constitutes a vital area of engagement for both domestic and international policymakers seeking to produce tangible changes in how justice is actually experienced. However, it is also an area fraught with risks. This working paper seeks to examine potential engagement by domestic and international actors with local informal justice systems. It consists of three main sections. The first section examines the nature of informal justice. It highlights some common advantages and disadvantages of those systems. Part two examines four donor relevant case studies with high levels of legal pluralism where most disputes are settled through informal mechanisms. The cases span from conflict prone states where the governing authority is actively contested to more consolidated democracies. They are designed to cover a wide array of potential settings, drawing on places of ongoing conflict (Afghanistan) and a polity teetering on the brink of major conflict (South Sudan). The case studies also include an example that enjoys stable and legitimate governance, but a democratic deficit (Rwanda) as well as a democratic state that faces serious economic, political, and judicial challenges (Ghana). The final section offers some general insights based on the examined cases. Most notably, it outlines the major policy options available as well as some key issues to consider.

Publication Type: Report
Additional Information: Re-used with permission from the Knowledge Platform Security & Rule of Law: .
Subjects: J Political Science > JX International law
K Law
Departments: School of Policy & Global Affairs > International Politics
[thumbnail of Swenson- understanding-and-engaging-informal-justice.pdf]
Text - Published Version
Download (640kB) | Preview
Official URL:


Add to AnyAdd to TwitterAdd to FacebookAdd to LinkedinAdd to PinterestAdd to Email


Downloads per month over past year

View more statistics

Actions (login required)

Admin Login Admin Login