The Road to Sustainable Development Goal 16

Last week we attended a seminar at the London International Development Centre (LIDC) and listened to an informative and moving talk by Nikki Walsh who addressed the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal of globally increasing access to justice.

Nikki Walsh is a Senior Lecturer in Law at City, University of London. Prior to joining City, she practised domestically as a criminal defence lawyer and then internationally as a legal assistant at war crimes trials at ICTY in the Hague and Special Court-Sierra Leone. Her research interests include access to justice, fair trials standards, and the politicisation of lethal force by the state, particularly capital punishment. Nikki has developed partnerships with third sector and educational stakeholders in a range of jurisdictions, and delivered UNDP training at the University of Hargeisa in Somaliland, consulted for death row lawyers in Texas, and established an access to justice training programme to legally empower prisoners in Malawi.

During the seminar, Nikki mainly talked of her experience in Malawi and the challenges the nation faces in increasing their access to justice. To give you some background, Malawi is a landlocked country in Southeastern Africa. It is the 4th poorest country in the world and has a recorded population of 18.6 million. To serve that population is an incredibly small number of legal professionals, standing at 419 registered legal practitioners (in 2018).

Poverty, low literacy levels, lack of record-keeping and poor court attendance by magistrates combined with over-worked legal professionals has resulted in severe overcrowding in Malawi jails as many prisoners await trials. Reports of torture and abuse by guards are high and poor malnutrition has lead to illness and disease. Additionally, many of the prisoners locked away are male and of working age. This not only affects their own lives but those of their families who are without their main breadwinner. The situation makes for very grim reading by all accounts.

In July 2015 there were 193 people detained in this single cell designed to house 60 people. Photograph: Luca Sola
Overcrowding is a dire issue in this Malawi prison. It is currently at three times its intended capacity. In July 2015 there were 193 Ethiopian migrants detained in this single-cell designed to house 60 people. 160 of them had finished their sentence the previous month but were still detained. The overcrowding has also meant the prisoners share one toilet to 120 people and one tap to 900. Photograph: Luca Sola published in The Guardian.

The positive side of the story is that Nikki has been working with a group of motivated paralegals who were tirelessly trying to secure bail for those awaiting trials and thus reducing prisoner numbers. They have a long uphill struggle but the desire and ability to create change is there and pushing ahead.

The talk centred on the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 16:

To promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels.

The goal is arguably described as being the glue that holds the SDG goals together because the rule of law and access to justice is a critical component of communities and the first brick required in creating a safe and inclusive society.

This got us really thinking about how we can work towards increasing access to justice in nations that have low literacy rates, limited access to legal services and limited access to the internet. In the UK, we are still striving for the perfect system and technology and transparency seem to be the most logical way forward, but is this the answer in developing nations too?

We believe that Find Others has the beginnings of a global, technological solution, but it’s evident that it is going to take much more than simply providing the platform to solve the problem. We need global partners to make this happen and we will likely need to change or add features to make it truly a global solution.

Photo by Fernando Venzano on Unsplash

Therefore, this is an open call for anyone who has experience in this field to come forward and share your thoughts with us. Please get in touch by emailing

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Co-Founder of Find Others, a startup justice tech platform, looking to globally change the way we seek and achieve justice

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Co-Founder of Find Others, a startup justice tech platform, looking to globally change the way we seek and achieve justice