Innovation and Justice in The Netherlands

HiiL (the Dutch institution best known for the innovative Rechtwijzer programme) held its 2019 innovating justice forum yesterday. This is the ninth in the series so there is a pretty well-honed machine that swings into operation. As ever, there was much that was impressive and at the heart of proceedings were a group of entrepreneurs from around the world who have competed in a global challenge. HiiL’s boast – and who would challenge it? – is that it ‘scouts and supports the world’s best innovators’.

The venue was, as usual, the imposing, rather church-like, Peace Palace in The Hague, the current home of the International Court of Justice and the Permanent Court of Arbitration. The format and mix was much as usual – including a nice touch of the zany. The day’s events were interspersed with various artistic approaches that included a dance representation of mediation in a family dispute, poetry, a visual display of the day and music. More seriously and rather cleverly, time was given to HiiL’s Justice Leadership Panel. This is an initiative which ‘brings together a group of seven carefully selected justice leaders, all of whom are former or current members of the government, and are credited with leading remarkable justice change in the countries they have served. They will work together to assist senior justice leaders lead more effectively based on solid understanding of the special characteristics of transformative leadership in the justice sector, specifically in countries in transition.’ It is funded by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs and contains judges and former justice ministers from countries like Tunisia, Botswana and Jordan. 

The effect of giving airtime to the leaders is to increase the weight of the proceedings which might otherwise be dominated by the predominantly young entrepreneurs competing in the challenge – twelve of whom make pitches to the conference. These came predominantly from East, West and South Africa but also included India and the Ukraine. HiiL has managed to crack the competitive and shallow down side of some Hackathons. Participants (originally over 400) are weeded out through regional competitions but only after receiving support and funding. The 12 competitors at the final stage had received further funding and undertaken training in The Hague. One of the most impressive things about the conference was the extent to which the joint experience had clearly engendered a degree of bonding. All the competitors stood to applaud each of the eleven other participants after their presentations and they clearly felt a joint bond as a group.

The theme for this round was sustainability and the potential to scale up to a financially viable size. Perhaps because of that, there was more of an emphasis than previously perhaps on products aimed at businesses or governments. Several of the participants featured in The Engine Room’s report released on legal empowerment earlier this week – such as video South African educational tool Baobab law and Indian benefit claim assistant Haqdarshak.

An official from the Dutch government announced the winners – giving, in the process, due acknowledgement to the role of The Netherlands in promoting this undertaking. The diversity of the first three underlined the creativity of the entrants. First was CrimeSync, a product from Sierra Leone which ‘automates the justice chain from the inception of a case to its final adjudication, providing a single view of the offender’s journey. Had British Airways flown from London to Schipol remotely on time, I could have given you more details of the presentation of founder Sorieba Daffae. CrimeSync is essentially a case management tool for the justice sector. Second was Haqdarshak where its presentation emphasised the role of trained intermediaries to help users through the forest of different possible schemes under which users might claim health benefits.  Third was South African Creative Contracts which allows companies to create comic versions of contracts. This looks like a fertile idea for enlightened employers with illiterate employees.

So, all in all, the 2019 innovating justice forum was a delight (the contribution of British Airways excepted) – the final fruition of a thoughtful, well implemented almost year-long programme of which HIIL, The Netherlands and all who were  part  of it should be proud. And well done, all the participants. Worth a few minutes of your time to consult the forum’s website to see more of them.

Leave a Reply