Justice and Rule of Law

April 28, 2015

World Bank


Justice and the rule of law are central to the World Bank’s core agenda of ending extreme poverty and promoting shared prosperity.  An absence of justice and the rule of law both creates poverty and impedes poverty reduction and greater equality. Not surprisingly, increasing evidence points to the importance of accountable and effective justice institutions in creating the enabling environment for a range of development outcomes – from improved basic service delivery to increased private sector investment and reduced corruption. The World Bank’s 2011 World Development Report emphasized the indispensability of justice institutions in managing conflict and underpinning development.

Since the early 1990s, the Bank has supported a variety of justice-related activities through lending and analytical and advisory work. These include more than 30 major loan projects, valued at over $850 million, dedicated specifically to assisting developing countries in establishing efficient and effective justice systems. Hundreds of other justice improvement activities have also taken place as integrated parts of projects focusing on public sector reform, governance and anti-corruption, citizen security, private sector and economic development, urban and social development, poverty reduction, gender equality, and natural resource management, among others.


The World Bank’s core work in justice rests with the Governance Global Practice. Our work focuses on:

Improving the performance of justice sector institutions.  We apply public sector management expertise to agencies at all levels of the justice system in areas such as human resources, budgeting, IT, and supply chain management.  This work is informed by agency and user assessments, impact evaluations, political economy analysis, and reviews of governing legislative frameworks. 

Advising on criminal justice reform and citizen security. Effective delivery of services in the criminal justice sector is an essential part of the crime prevention and enforcement chain. In our work on crime and violence,  we advise teams working with a wide range of criminal justice sector institutions, including prosecutors, police, corrections, criminal courts, and public defenders, and collaborate with other World Bank Global Practices on crime prevention.

Promoting justice in development sectors such as land, extractives, and urban development. We recognize that just outcomes are not the sole purview of justice institutions, thus we work across sectors to support effective mediation of rights and entitlements, address grievances, and promote accountability. This work touches on issues of land, extractives, public infrastructure, and service delivery and is primarily undertaken by our Justice for the Poor program

Reforming the justice sector for better business and investment climate. An accessible and efficient justice system is essential for sustained economic growth. We review legal and regulatory frameworks, as well as business court and court enforcement operations, to improve the business and investment climate of client countries.

Leading global knowledge, learning and measurement initiatives on justice, human rights (through the Nordic Trust Fund), and the rule of law.  We engage with others across the World Bank and external partners to develop innovative measurement approaches and indicator sets. We also create knowledge products and organize events which capture lessons learned and bring expertise to both Bank teams and external stakeholders.  Our Justice & Development Working Papers, Just Development notes, and other reports serve to inform practitioners within and outside the Bank on successful approaches to justice work across sectors and regions.

Designing interventions to promote access to justice and legal empowerment. We work with legal aid providers and NGOs and use community engagements and IT-supported governance approaches to promote access to justice and legal empowerment.

Focusing on justice issues in contexts of fragility, conflict, and violence. We collaborate with other World Bank Global Practices and Cross-Cutting Solution Areas to strengthen Bank analysis and engagement in fragile and conflict-affected states.  Our work includes technical assistance on constitutional development in areas such as federalism and regional autonomy, transitional justice, and political economy-informed approaches to support the emergence of effective and legitimate institutions to manage justice stresses in these contexts.


Click here for examples (pdf) of current justice sector projects at the World Bank.


New Directions in Justice Reform (2012): This paper elaborates new directions in justice reform under the World Bank's updated strategy and implementation plan on strengthening governance and tackling corruption.

Initiatives in Justice Reform 1992-2012: A compendium of World Bank-financed activities in justice reform which presents brief summaries of justice reform projects, grants, and research. This publication highlights the breadth of the Bank's work in this critical field of development.

Justice for the Poor Program Publications: The Justice for the Poor (J4P) program engages with justice reform as a cross-cutting issue in the practice of development. Grounded in evidence-based approaches focused on the perspective of the poor and marginalized, the program aims to improve the delivery of justice services and to support sustainable and equitable development processes which manage grievance and conflict stresses effectively.

Just Development: A curated series of brief, yet informative and thought provoking, case studies, lessons and essays to share knowledge and stimulate debate on how development practitioners can promote effective justice institutions.

Justice and Development Working Paper Series: A platform for new and innovative thinking on issues of justice and development featuring work from our staff and external authors. This series features findings of work in progress to encourage a more rapid exchange of ideas about development issues and justice reform.