Open Government is a crucial concept in today’s world where people seek transparency, accountability, and participation in institutional processes. However, for open government to become a reality, there must be a commitment to justice. Without justice, open government is a facade. The bridge between citizens’ participation and open government remains incomplete unless people can meaningfully participate in institutional agenda-setting processes and hold institutions accountable for systemic failures.
To translate open government commitments into concrete reforms at the community level, legal empowerment can play a crucial role as a pathway to justice. Legal empowerment includes community-driven campaigns, community paralegal programs, popular education efforts, and community-driven litigation that puts people at the centre of their fight for justice by allowing them to “know, use, and shape” the laws that affect their lives.
Research has shown that legal empowerment strengthens the fight against corruption and promotes change in institutional practice. Community monitoring efforts in Malawi exposed corruption in the free primary education scheme, and civil society organisations used this evidence to create community awareness and pressure districts into investing properly in education. Effective legal empowerment works to advance state commitments on improved service delivery, beneficial ownership, and open contracting.
Legal empowerment efforts open up opportunities for people to participate in and shape institutions that affect their lives. A study of paralegal-led community land protection efforts in Uganda, Liberia, and Mozambique found that their work strengthened the rules and structures governing community lands. In India, legal information campaigns raised awareness of benefits to which students were entitled, as well as rights to information and complaint procedures. This led to more parents taking part in oversight committees about school quality.
Legal empowerment adds a participatory dimension to institutional reform, mobilizing public interests, expectations, and capacity. In Ghana, local communities were empowered to participate in local governance processes, leading to sustained constructive discourse between citizens and local government that addresses local development needs and concerns.
Legal empowerment can also help strengthen digital governance. Kenya’s access to justice commitment in its OGP National Action Plan IV 2020-2022 encapsulated a people-centred approach to the adoption of technology in justice so that the people are not left behind due to the digital divide. Kituo cha Sheria established an ICT centre through which its staff and community-based paralegals support clients to attend online court and file documents at no cost. Through the OGP platform, a mechanism involving the judiciary, local organisations and community-based paralegals is being designed to enhance access to digitalised justice. In conclusion, legal empowerment is a crucial tool for achieving justice and enhancing open government. To achieve real progress in these areas, we must recognize the critical role that legal empowerment plays in fighting corruption, fostering participation and inclusion, and alleviating the climate crisis. By giving ordinary people the knowledge and tools to engage with institutions effectively, we can create a more just and equitable society.