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Judiciaries in Africa

Judiciaries in Africa
Understanding Judicial Independence, Legitimacy and Access to Justice

The judiciary is integral to upholding the rule of law and thus, the effective working of democracy.
Too often, however, African judiciaries are unable to adequately fulfil these roles according to the
mandates they have been given. The Judiciaries in Africa (JiA) project aims to further our
understanding of judiciaries in Africa by collecting systematic comparative information with a focus
on judicial independence, legitimacy and access to justice. The research aims to answer questions
that are important to academics, policy makers and practitioners. Broadly speaking, the project
seeks to answer three questions:

  1. To what extent are judiciaries independent from other branches of government, able to enforce the rule of law, and provide access to justice?
  2. Why some judiciaries do better or worse in fulfilling their mandates?
  3. Which factors are facilitating or impeding institutional development of judiciaries, and thus the quality and health of multiparty democracy in Africa?

To answer these questions, the JiA project aims to bring together existing, and drive new research
that connects the areas of judicial independence, legitimacy and access to justice. The first of the
three thematic areas focuses on the horizontal relationship between the executive and the
legislative branches of government on the one side, and the judiciary on the other. In contrast, the
second theme - judicial legitimacy – concentrates on the vertical relationship between the judiciary
as an institution and ordinary citizens. Lastly, access to justice as a basic human right deals with,
among other things, the distinction between the availability and accessibility of justice in different
forums, from apex courts to high courts, magistrates’ courts and traditional courts. Each theme
provokes a different set of questions guiding the research process.

Connecting legal studies and political science, our interdisciplinary research approach allows us to
explore differences across countries and institutions using a variety of quantitative and qualitative
measures, ranging from content analysis of publicly available data (e.g. legal frameworks and court
cases) to citizen surveys and expert interviews. The different methodologies are bundled in five
interconnected research modules that are currently piloted in our first country study – South Africa.
From 2019 onwards, we will expand our data collection to selected countries in southern and East
Africa.

The Judiciaries in Africa project is a collaboration between the Democratic Governance and Rights
Unit
(DGRU) and the Institute for Democracy, Citizenship and Public Policy in Africa (IDCPPA) at the
University of Cape Town. The Steering Committee currently comprises Vanja Karth (DGRU), Chris
Oxtoby
(DGRU) and Matthias Krönke (IDCPPA).