HiiL (the Hague Institute for Innovation of Law): Re-Invention and Innovation

HiiL has long shown a capacity for re-invention. For a start, its initials may have stayed the same since its foundation in 2005 but their meaning has been retrofitted more than once. They now stand for the Hague Institute for Innovation of Law (they once incorporated a reference to Internationalisation). This process continues and is evident in its recently released annual report for 2019. It is signalled in the report’s title, A Watershed Year. We are now a long way from where many readers may recognise the organisation – as the progenitor of the Rechtwijzer programme, still a world leader in aspects of ODR.

There are traps in writing about organisations on the basis of their own promotional material – as an annual report inevitably is. I began a piece on HiiL’s work a couple of years ago with the sentence: ‘There is not much that you can teach the Hague’s Institute for Innovation of Law ( HiiL) about marketing.’ This remains true. The annual report is nicely presented and subtlety infused with a colour scheme of Dutch orange. That should please the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs which is HiiL’s largest funder and presumably sees it as a projection of Dutch soft power. At the helm remains the charismatic figure of onetime international human rights lawyer Sam Muller. Watchers of detail will observe that he seems to have got away during the year with keeping his most senior colleagues but reorganising a senior management team around a couple of new faces. With that has gone a management re-organsation around projects rather than functions. It seems successful. HiiL grew during the year by ’44 per cent, both in terms of budget and staff’.

HiiL likes to think big: ‘we aim to empower 150 million people to prevent or resolve their most pressing justice problems by 2030’. To do that, it has embraced a highly internationalist, UN-orientated approach. It has signed up with vigour to the achievement of UN Strategic Development Goal 16 (including 16.3 ‘Promote the rule of law at the national and international levels and ensure equal access to justice for all.’). It has put its shoulder to the wheel to seek implementation of the Task Force for Justice, also supported by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Sam Muller was one of the authors of Justice For All and the Public Health Emergency produced by the body behind the Task Force (Pathfinders for Peaceful, Just and Inclusive Societies).

This international focus has taken HiiL away from the rather different role that it played in developing and promoting the Rechtwijzer. Then it was unique in sending out ambassadors to national and international conferences and organisations seeking partners to develop its product. At one level, this was a sales drive but it provided the valuable function of shaking up national discussions of technology developments with the prospect of international learning and collaboration. To a degree, this blog is in itself a legacy of that initiative. HIiL’s decisive move away from product development is probably justified by its international work but it has meant more of separation than is perhaps desirable between access to justice in countries with developed and developing economies. 

The positive side of this move is seen in HiiL’s  international engagement. In pursuit of its 150m target audience, it has worked in a diverse range of countries. The have included Nigeria, Mali, Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia, South Africa, Ukraine, Fiji and Syria. This has been both on an individual and a collective basis. In the fashion of this kind of international work, we had The Hague Declaration on Equal Access to Justice for All of February last year. We also had the report of the Innovation Working Group of the Task Force: Innovating Justice: Needed and Possible.

HiiL’s project is, first, to gain recognition of the failure of a large proportion of the world’s population to get justice, ‘the justice gap’. Second, to challenge basic assumptions: ‘Doing justice is currently perceived and organized as applying norms to people’s behaviour. It should be re-framed in terms of the justice needs of people and the fairness of their relationships.’  Third,  encouragement of new technologies and services to meet those needs: ‘This is a bottom-up movement. It is a response to the fact that the lawyers and courts are not always delivering what is needed.’ Finally, there is the scaling up these new services with new resources (to include the private sector) and the removal remove restrictions – such as those protecting existing legal providers. 

In all this, the overall intent is to open up the field and build on local examples of success. Internationally, there are some interesting proposals that might be widely adopted: ‘Ministries of justice could allocate a dedicated portion of their budgets to innovation. The Prime Minister’s Office of the United Arab Emirates, for example, requires each ministry to allocate 1% of its budget to innovation. This may grow to 5% in the future.’ Others are more controversial, as in the praise in innovating Justice  for the model of collaboration between the private and public sector in some Chinese courts. 

HiiL projects itself as a social enterprise and is expressly entrepreneurial by culture: ‘Being entrepreneurial means that I treat my work for HiiL as if it would be my own business and my success depends on it every day.’ says Ukrainian Innovating Justice Agent Dmitry Foremnyi, ‘It means I find creative ways to solve problems, develop service delivery, protect the brand and develop it.’ The organisation is also pretty diverse with employees from 24 nationalities. It is seeking to increase local engagement in delivery by exploring a ‘franchise’ model of delivering ‘local justice accelerators’: ‘The Franchise Model will allow local entrepreneurs to incorporate locally owned legal entities to carry out HiiL’s work. As locally incorporated entities, the goal is that they will be able to fundraise and, eventually, financially sustain themselves. More importantly, these local entities will be locally-owned and managed, meaning that their operations will be even more reflective of the people that they serve and work with.’

During the year, HiiL has refined its Justice Dashboard which allows a representation of how people in different countries resolve their disputes and has refined its survey tool for measuring justice. This is work that has at its origin the work of Professor Hazel Genn in Paths to Justice. HiiL has also continued to develop its Justice Accelerator process. This involves an annual sweep for innovation, largely in the countries where HiiL is working, which provides support, mentoring and finance. It culminated last year in support for 29 innovative products such as advice provider Barefoot Law in Uganda or welfare benefits guide Haqdarshak in India. 

So, HiiL seems to be an organisation still in good heart. And we might perhaps give some thought to how it might operate as a bridge between those with national concerns and organisations like the Open Society Justice Initiative or Namati which are interested, like HiiL, in the use of technology or  legal empowerment within a development context. 

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