Justizia im Sonnenlicht
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Is access to justice equal?

The ability to access justice is a fundamental human right and essential for upholding the rule of law. However, there is a lack of evidence on the issue in Germany. Access to Justice, a research group at the WZB led by Michael Wrase, is investigating the extent to which citizens are able to access the law and justice in Berlin. Its aim is to develop proposals, based on empirical inquiry, to enable equal access to justice in the state of Berlin. The independent study has been funded by the Berlin State’s Senate Department for Justice, Diversity and Anti-Discrimination since December 2020.

Existing research suggests that access to justice is unequally distributed due to various legal, institutional, economic and social barriers. The study therefore focuses on possible disadvantages resulting from social status, (ascribed) ethnicity, and/or racial attributions.

In the initial exploratory phase of the project, the team conducted 41 semi-structured interviews with professionals working inside the civil justice system, nonjudicial experts, and persons from legal tech sector. The first phase was concluded in October 2021 with an interim report.

Evidence from the preliminary survey indicates that socio-economically disadvantaged groups, migrants, and racialized individuals have to overcome higher hurdles compared to other groups when seeking to access the civil justice system.

In its current form, the system of counseling and legal aid appears to only compensate for the existing economic barriers to a limited extent. Legal tech services now provide new avenues for increased legal mobilization in certain areas of law and case constellations. However, it remains unclear which groups utilize these legal tech services and how these new tools interact with the structural inequalities present in the civil justice system.

Respondents reported on the issue of discrimination in dealings with the Berlin judiciary in very different ways. Associations representing persons affected by racial discrimination lamented a lack of sensitivity among the judiciary to discriminatory practices. Respondents from the judicial system were more likely to believe that discrimination did not play a decisive role in access to justice or the legal system at large, although discriminatory incidents were sometimes acknowledged.

Based on this initial assessment, the research group intends to examine the mechanisms and inequalities in access to justice in Berlin in greater empirical depth. A statistical analysis of case data from local courts will be carried out, focusing on the representation of migrants, legal representation, and socio-economic factors. In addition, further expert interviews and ethnographic studies will be conducted.

April 19, 2022

Access to Justice, a research group at the WZB led by Michael Wrase, is investigating the extent to which citizens are able to access the law and justice in Berlin.