13 March 2017

Africa: Access to Justice Still Elusive for Many Africans, Afrobarometer Survey Finds

press release

Accra — In most African countries, substantial barriers still inhibit citizens' access to justice, a new Afrobarometer analysis finds.

Based on a special access-to-justice module in national surveys in 36 African countries, the sobering report identifies long delays, high costs, corruption, the complexity of legal processes, and a lack of legal counsel as major obstacles for citizens seeking legal remedies.

The analysis finds vast differences between relatively good access to justice in Botswana, Cape Verde, and Lesotho and the dismal indicators emerging from places such as Liberia and Sierra Leone. In general, the quality and extent of access to justice are worse in less democratic and post-conflict countries. But even most of the best-performing countries have substantial work to do before they can claim to meet the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 16 call for "access to justice for all."

These new Afrobarometer findings are detailed in Afrobarometer Policy Paper No. 39, available at www.afrobarometer.org.

Key findings

- Across 36 countries, a slim majority (53%) of Africans express confidence in the courts, but in 10 countries, 40% or fewer trust the courts. One in three believe that "most" or "all" judges and magistrates engage in corruption.

- Even so, 72% say courts have the right to make decisions that people always have to abide by.

- Only about one in eight citizens (13%) report contact with the courts in the past five years, ranging from just 4% in Burkina Faso and 6% in Senegal and Côte d'Ivoire to more than one in four citizens in Egypt (28%), Morocco (28%), and Liberia (27%). Contact rates for some marginalized groups (women, uneducated) are even lower.

- Among those reporting contact with the courts, a majority (54%) say that obtaining the needed assistance was difficult. Three out of 10 (30%) report paying bribes to court officials, an experience shared by virtually no Batswana (0%) but nearly two out of three Sierra Leoneans (65%).

- The experience of problems is common, led by "long delays in handling or resolving the case" (60%). Nearly half also report that they have difficulty understanding legal processes and procedures, and lack of legal advice, judges who do not listen, and high expenses are all common experiences as well. Liberians, who have some of the highest contact rates, report the most problems by a wide margin.

- Poor, uneducated, and rural respondents are significantly more likely - in some cases more than twice as likely - to encounter problems compared to their wealthier, better-educated, and/or urban counterparts.

- Among the many reasons cited for avoiding the courts, but costs and a lack of confidence in the courts are leading concerns.

- However, country profiles vary markedly. In some countries, the main reason people do not go to courts is that they turn to traditional leaders or local councils instead. In others, people are driven away by expectations of unfair treatment or fear of consequences.

- On average, justice systems in Southern Africa receive the highest marks for the quality and extent of access to justice, while West African nations get the lowest marks, although there are exceptions in both regions.

- Democracies are doing a markedly better job of providing access to justice for their citizens than autocracies, but there are notable outliers, especially Ghana and Benin.

- Post-conflict countries, especially Liberia and Sierra Leone, face much greater challenges in providing access to justice to their citizens than countries that have enjoyed greater internal stability.


Afrobarometer is a pan-African, non-partisan research network that conducts public attitude surveys on democracy, governance, economic conditions, and related issues across 36 countries in Africa. Five rounds of surveys were implemented between 1999 and 2013, and results from Round 6 surveys (2014/2015) are currently being released.

Afrobarometer conducts face-to-face interviews in the language of the respondent's choice with nationally representative samples, which yield country-level results with a margin of error of +/-2% (for a sample of 2,400) or +/3% (for a sample of 1,200) at a 95% confidence level. Round 6 interviews with 53,935 citizens represent the views of more than three-fourths of the continent's population.

See www.afrobarometer.org and Facebook and Twitter @Afrobarometer.

Follow the conversation on #VoicesAfrica on Twitter and Facebook.


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