Osgoode research shows investing in justice saves money

A new report published by the Canadian Forum on Civil Justice (CFCJ), a research organization based at York’s Osgoode Hall Law School, provides extensive evidence that spending money on justice services and programs results in financial returns that far outweigh the cost of the investments.

The “Investing in Justice” report examines research carried out across justice services and programs in several regions, including North America, sub-Saharan Africa, Europe, Australia and Asia. The report concludes that across a diversity of justice programs and services, spending on justice results in significant economic and other benefits that generally significantly exceed the value of the investment. In many cases, the rate of return on investment in justice services and programs is between C$9 and $16 for every C$1 that is spent.

Justice sector spending that was examined for the report relates primarily to civil legal aid, community-based justice programs, pro bono services and alternative dispute resolution. The report also include assessments related to spending on legal expense insurance, legal empowerment initiatives, youth justice, restorative justice and other programs.

Driving home the significance of justice sector investments, the report presents data revealing that cutting spending on justice almost always results in increased costs to the state, the courts and communities. These increased costs derive from a range of outcomes, including higher eviction rates, higher unemployment rates and increased homelessness – all of which place greater demands on government services and budgets. Cuts also impact formal justice services, in particular with reduced funding leading to more inefficient courts and higher court costs.

Trevor Farrow

“The evidence really is clear,” said CFCJ director and report co-author Lisa Moore. “Study after study shows that spending to facilitate access to justice through civil legal aid, community-based justice services, and a range of other pathways for legal problem resolution saves money for governments, the courts, communities, and individuals and also generates money within local economies. It’s a good financial investment.”

According to fellow co-author, Osgoode Professor Trevor Farrow, “Two-thirds of the world’s population lacks meaningful access to justice. Canada,” he said, “is not immune from this crisis – many members of our communities, particularly the most vulnerable, cannot access justice. Investing in justice is clearly the right thing to do. As this new report shows, it is also the smart thing to do.”

In recent years, research from the CFCJ has confirmed the high costs to government programs that result from Canadians not being able to respond adequately to their everyday legal problems. These costs to the state are estimated at $800 million or more annually. The research presented in the “Investing in Justice” report reinforces the significant costs borne by the state from individuals not being able to adequately address their justice problems. It also makes the case that spending on justice to remove barriers and facilitate dispute resolution is money well spent.

The “Investing in Justice” report was commissioned by the Task Force on Justice and is part of an international collection of background papers in support of UN Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 16.3 – equal justice for all.