International Development Law Organization

Customary and Informal Justice

Customary and informal justice (CIJ) describes justice and conflict resolution mechanisms that operate outside the formal system of state-based laws and courts, ranging from traditional and indigenous systems to local alternative dispute resolution. CIJ systems tend to be cheaper, more accessible, and better trusted than formal systems; they emphasize restorative justice, flexible rules and procedures, and negotiated solutions that are culturally resonant. However, they often operate in ways not consistent with international human rights standards and reflect unequal power dynamics and conservative social norms, with adverse effects on women and other excluded groups.

The case for engaging with CIJ systems is straightforward: the vast majority of justice seekers claim their rights and resolve their problems outside of formal courts, and their first resort is to CIJ. With more than five billion people lacking access to justice, CIJ systems must be included in efforts to achieve justice for all in line with the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda. Those at greatest risk of being left behind by formal justice systems are also the main users of CIJ systems, including women and girls, young people, indigenous communities, people in remote and rural areas, and the poorest households.

IDLO is an established global leader in developing and advocating for solutions that bridge the justice gap by empowering people to realize their rights in CIJ systems. IDLO is committed to engaging with the diverse pathways available to justice seekers, especially women and other excluded groups, strengthening the accessibility, responsiveness, and accountability of CIJ providers, and ensuring they align with international human rights standards and cooperate with formal justice systems. IDLO seeks to promote innovative approaches, generate knowledge, and influence policy in ways that centre CIJ in the global justice agenda, including through its key role in establishing the Working Group on CIJ and SDG16+. Delivering access to people-centred justice for all will be viable only if there is recognition that that the state is not the sole justice provider.

IDLO's Publications on Customary and Informal Justice:

Community Paralegals and Customary and Informal Justice

Community Paralegals and Customary and Informal Justice explores how community-based paralegals and other legal aid providers can strengthen the accessibility and inclusiveness of customary and informal justice (CIJ) systems.

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Accessing Justice: Somalia's Alternative Dispute Resolution Centers

Accessing Justice: Somalia's Alternative Dispute Resolution Centers reviews structural, procedural, and normative dimensions of justice in six Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) Centers in Somalia, documenting insights from ADR Coordinators, Clerks, paralegals, and Adjudicators as well as users of the Centers.

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Issue Brief: Women and Customary and Informal Justice Systems

Women and Customary and Informal Justice Systems focuses on the relationship between women and customary and informal justice (CIJ) systems.

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Policy and Issue Brief: Engagement with Customary and Informal Justice Systems

In a bid to make justice accessible for all, IDLO has launched a series of Consultations on customary and informal justice systems. The global dialogue is informed by a series of publications titled “Navigating Complex Pathways to Justice: Engagement with Customary and Informal Justice Systems” that seeks to advance policy dialogue and distil lessons from programming and research, to help realize Sustainable Development Goal 16.

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Practitioner Brief: Engagement with Customary and Informal Justice Systems

In a bid to make justice accessible for all, IDLO has launched a series of Consultations on customary and informal justice systems. The global dialogue is informed by a series of publications titled “Navigating Complex Pathways to Justice: Engagement with Customary and Informal Justice Systems” that seeks to advance policy dialogue and distil lessons from programming and research, to help realize Sustainable Development Goal 16. This Practitioner Brief offers a set of concrete tools, recommendations and good practices to support engagement with customary and informal justice systems.

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Strengthening the Alternative Dispute Resolution in Somalia

Lack of access to a fair and equitable justice system is one of the most pressing problems confronting modern Somalia on its path towards stability and reconstruction. Informal justice systems, offering alternative dispute resolution are often much better placed to respond to the immediate justice needs of many Somalis seeking justice, as they have more legitimacy and are more easily accessible. To enhance access to justice in Somalia, it is therefore essential to engage with the alternative dispute resolution systems.

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