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The Quest for Justice [2005] ADBLPRes 15 (1 May 2005)

The Quest for Justice

ADB Review [ May 2005 ]

No country can prosper if its citizens are left insecure and their assets and hopes left hostage to the uncertainties and injustices of rule without law

By Arthur M. Mitchell, (
General Counsel

Landscapes, an art historian once noted, are often deceptive: they can hide more than they actually reveal. So it is with attempts to define poverty as just a function of income. It is true that without adequate income, there is no escape from poverty. But to understand the predicament of the poor and their prospects for overcoming poverty, one must go beyond the metric of “dollar-a-day” existence.

Poverty and deprivation must be seen in all their bareness: lack of education, health care, nutrition, clean water, safe sanitation, and income; and the passage of premature death. By all measures, that ultimate metric of denial is too large—and Asia bears the largest quotient of that denial.

Alongside these deprivations, one must also become aware of citizens’ rights that are denied, opportunities that are bypassed, entitlements that are wasted, public services that are not rendered, liberties that are seized, public resources that are plundered, the terror of vulnerability that is inflicted, and the sense of dignity that is devoured.

It is in such spirit of inquiry that the Asian Development Bank (ADB) convened a symposium on law reform in January 2005 where leaders and experts from Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Pakistan, and Philippines gathered to address the critical issues facing the legal and judicial sector.

“In a free society the state does not administer the affairs of men. It administers justice among men who conduct their own affairs,” wrote Walter Lippman in his An Inquiry into the Principles of a Good Society (1937). In the course of the symposium, Lippman’s observation was echoed time and again.

That “administration of justice among men” is a precondition for men to “conduct their own affairs”—in other words that rule of law is a necessity in enabling individual, social, and economic development was forcefully brought home.

It is a given that there will always be competing priorities, but the international development community has undervalued this critical but unimpeachable aspect of a nation’s development. No country can prosper if its citizens are left insecure and their assets and hopes left hostage to the uncertainties and injustices of rule without law.

The price of the state failing to administer justice, as Lippman suggested, is not just forgone potential prosperity, but freedom itself may be at stake. If there is no rule of law, the void is generally filled with rule of some other type whose arbitrariness and capriciousness will erode any sense of justice.

Rule of law paves the way for not only social and economic well-being but, ultimately, it also stands as a protector of human freedom.

The judiciary is a central element in the administration of justice. It is of paramount importance that no effort be spared in strengthening the judiciary’s capacity to deliver on its mandate. When a case stubbornly sticks to a court’s docket for 10–15 years, as was reportedly common in many of our developing member countries, there is a gigantic failure in administration of justice.

We at ADB have been privileged to work with some pioneering reforms in Pakistan and other countries that have addressed docket congestion and such other challenges in improving the delivery of justice. Clearly, more needs to be done to make further progress.

No area of the delivery of justice has been more ignored and yet deserving of so much attention than police reform. The police have been described as the first floor of the citadel of justice—and, indeed, it is in the hands of police where crucial determinations are made in the prosecution for justice.

It is inconceivable to think of a robust justice system where the police are corrupt or where it does not have the basic means to carry out its duties. A professional, effective, and honorable police force is a must in the development of any robust system of justice. Therefore, the case for police reform is inseparable from the case for reform of the justice system.

As you turn the pages of this issue of ADB Review, you may be struck by the extent of consensus on these issues from country after country. The important task now is to move toward action in a cohesive and concerted manner. We at ADB remain committed to do our share in this quest for justice

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