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  • OpenTrial
  • By Frank Richardson
  • 31/01/2019 Make a Comment
  • Contributed by: Pikey ( 6 articles in 2019 )
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Accountability is Key to Justice

When the law protects, people can thrive. But, in the developing world the law is often abused by officials, and this seriously handicaps families and entire societies. Research by the World Justice Project shows that "more than 3 billion people worldwide face unmet justice needs. This 'justice gap'...... reinforces inequalities, undermines development, and erodes democracy." Our work to change this is fully consistent with international conventions, and the legislation and constitutional articles of most nations.

Transparency, accountability and public information on rights are quintessential to closing the justice gap. People must be empowered by being informed, as an overly heavy reliance on legal professionals detracts from justice. It is essential to create and uphold a right to know one's fundamental rights, to report violations of those rights and to access analysed data that identify legal system flaws. Now that the number of smartphone users worldwide is estimated to be around 2.5 billion, a great opportunity to advance justice presents itself.

Tackling injustice ex post facto, and only if it impacts personally, is wholly inadequate. Instead, work with OpenTrial to harness modern technology to ensure all people are treated with dignity and respect by 'the law'.

Want to join our growing crew that's helping to incubate justice? Contact us here.

What is the problem OpenTrial is tackling?

Most law enforcement systems around the globe are in need of reform if they are to ensure officials with integrity prevail so that equal legal protection is provided to all. Currently, many legal systems are riddled with corruption, violence and political influence. Arbitrary arrest and detention, in custody violence and extortion, and the 'selective' investigation of crime blights lives, families and entire societies. Fortunately, digital technology has the potential to transform legal systems and empower societies for justice.

How we tackle this:

Society has to be legally empowered. People must be informed about their fair trial rights, rights if detained, and their right to police protection. Web applications accessed through a web browser, smartphone apps, computer games, AI, and blockchains combined with more conventional methods, can best do this. Databases can provide society with information about how its legal system is working or not working. Knowledge aids transparency and accountability, and gathered data helps identify flaws.

We could not be more timely:

The 2016 Doha Declaration calls for "a people-centred approach that provides access to justice for everyone and builds effective and accountable institutions at all levels."

UN Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 16 puts the rule of law squarely at the heart of development, laying strong emphasis on access to justice, on the quality and inclusivity of institutions, and on the necessity of a legal identity for all.

In a nutshell:

OpenTrial is a social enterprise that advances justice by harnessing modern technology to:
inform, monitor, report, identify and correct.

The aim is to remove criminality from law enforcement so that those with integrity prevail.

In doing this, we strive to be innovative, dynamic, flexible, solution-oriented, cost-effective and for our work to be financially sustainable.


OpenTrial is a social-cause enterprise established by Frank Richardson, who fell back on his legal training after he was dispossessed, torn from his children and had his life turned upside down by the corrupt legal system in Indonesia.

While businesses have often profited from conflict and wars, and even caused them, OpenTrial derives its revenues from advancing justice and, therefore, peace and well-being. Financial sustainability is aimed at in order to ensure the long-term continuity of our work.

Unfortunately, the deprived billions, of which the majority of people in the world consist, mostly live with lawlessness and injustice ever present. Their powerlessness to stand up against abuse and exploitation is ultimately effacing and often utterly debilitating. For them things can become so dire they are compelled do that which we, in the comfortable rich world, regard as unthinkable, such as selling a young daughter to become the bride of an elderly man or to unwittingly end up as a sex slave.

Equality before the law and fair legal process would change these people's lives dramatically. They would be able to make a stand against abuse and exploitation, demand their human rights and bring the malfeasant to account. Yet the legal systems that hold sway over them are often utterly dysfunctional and for good reason; they frequently derive from culturally inappropriate foreign grafts that were designed to oppress the colonised and, in turn, were usurped by post-colonial dictators. The laws are, therefore, often disseminated in the foreign language of the former colonists, a language which may not be understood by the indigenous people. Further, police, judges and prosecutors, who were in thrall to the post-colonial autocracy, may have no concept of serving the people, let alone justice. Thus, corruption and violence may be not only pervasive and endemic, but also deeply entrenched in justice sectors that are, by their nature, very conservative and highly resistant to change.

The answer is to do precisely that which was taboo under colonialism and tyrannical post-colonial regimes, namely:

  • provide information that furthers transparency with regard to how police, prosecutors and the judiciary function;

  • make justice sector officials accountable;

  • inform and strengthen civil society and engage it with the law; and

  • facilitate the reporting of violations so that action can be taken against injustice.

Computers, the internet, digital social networking, broadband, databases, apps and computer games make this possible like never before.

Accordingly, OpenTrial has an innovative, bottom-up, results-based, dynamic-creating approach that harnesses modern technology to: "reduce the scope for corruption, violence and human rights abuse within developing-world legal systems and, thereby, strengthen the rule of law in aid of national development and human dignity." Information provision, transparency and accountability change the law-society interface and dynamics, so that fair trials and equality before the law can become a reality by means of societal pressure. Our work is at the forefront in our field and is not for the faint-hearted, as justice systems are not the most flexible and tractable of systems.

Accolades/endorsements: the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), Norwegian Centre for Human Rights, Lawyers Without Borders, International Bridges to Justice (award winner), the Hague Institute for the Internationalisation of the Law (semi-finalist); Echoing Green (semi-finalist); Center for International Legal Cooperation; Ashoka (semi-finalist); Amnesty International; Transparency International; etc.

OpenTrial's Lexposé™ initiative complies with the recommendations of Transparency International and endorsed by Dr. Edgardo Buscaglia, Director, International Law and Economic Development Center and Senior Law and Economics Scholar at Columbia University, Professor Roy A. Schotland of the Georgetown Law Center, Washington D.C., Professor Dennis Töllborg, professor in legal science at Gothenburg Research Institute (GRI), University of Gothenburg, etc.

Furthermore, the distinguished South African former senior judge and current Co- Chair of the International Bar Association's Rule of Law Action Group, Richard Goldstone, says of the OpenTrial's Lexposé™ initiative that, with the support and cooperation of both the judiciary and government in question, "the project obviously has great potential for advancing the rule of law."

OpenTrial, The Enterprise Centre, University of East Anglia,
Norwich Research Park, Norwich, NR4 7TJ, U.K.

OpenTrial, born of trials

After thirteen years of setting up and running schools in Indonesia, my life and those of my young family were turned upside down. We were hit very hard by the criminal and corrupt in the Indonesian legal system. So that my successful schools, my home, my funds for my children's education, all my personal possessions and much else could be taken from me, I was jailed for months and then deported. Effectively, two of my children were abducted from me. Within years of this violation and grand-scale theft, the perpetrators had squandered and lost everything I had built up. It made me ask myself: If the corrupt could do this to an educated Westerner with resources, what chance does the ordinary Indonesian stand, and what are the retarding consequences of this for society?

Law and justice are in my blood from my mother's side, so, on returning to Britain I decided to fall back on my legal training as a young man, and set up OpenTrial to combat such heinous and destructive legal system dysfunction that is prevalent in and blights much of the developing world. As this site explains, with the advent of the interactivity of internet there is tremendous potential to combat legal system dysfunction through transparency, accountability and the legal empowerment of society.

Encouragingly, Norfolk, the county of my birth, is also the county in which two men who were pivotal to the advancement of justice in the world were born. The first is the English jurist and parliamentarian Sir Edward Coke (1552-1634), who searched for fundamental principles that undergirded all good law and insisted on due process that enabled people to see the law as a rational, orderly system in which they could have confidence. "Reason," he said, "is the life of the law; nay, the common law itself is nothing else but reason… The law, which is perfection of reason." The second is the political philosopher and writer Thomas Paine (1737-1809), who advocated the natural equality of individuals and the protection of their rights: “A Declaration of rights is, by reciprocity, a Declaration of Duties also. Whatever is my right as a man is also the right of another; and it becomes my duty to guarantee as well as to possess.” Radically for the time, he also proposed that government should take on the economic support of all citizens when they are at their most vulnerable, especially the young, the elderly and the infirm.

“[F]our billion people around the world are robbed of the chance to better their lives and climb out of poverty, because they are excluded from the rule of law.”
- the United Nations’ Commission on Legal Empowerment of the Poor.

Some quotes on justice

"Effective rule of law helps reduce corruption, alleviate poverty, improve public health and education, and protect people from injustices and dangers large and small. Wherever we come from, the rule of law can always be strengthened.”
William H. Neukom, WJP President & CEO.

"I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. ........... To remain silent and indifferent is the greatest sin of all..."
Elie Wiesel, Nobel Prize for Peace in 1986.

"The world is a dangerous place, not because of those who do evil, but because of those who look on and do nothing."
Albert Einstein

"In the darkness of secrecy, sinister and evil in every shape shall have full swing. Only in proportion as publicity has place can any of the checks applicable to judicial injustice operate. Where there is no publicity, there is no justice. Publicity is the very soul of justice. It is the keenest spur to exertion and the surest of all guards against improbity. It keeps the judge himself while trying under trial."
Jeremy Bentham, English Philosopher (1748-1832)

"Better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer."
William Blackstone, C18th English Jurist

Some insightful quotations from the works of Charles Dickens (1812-1870) on impediments to the rule of law :

"The one great principle of the English law is to make business for itself. There is no other principle distinctly, certainly, and consistently maintained through all its narrow turnings.” Bleak House

"Circumstances may accumulate so strongly even against an innocent man, that directed, sharpened, and pointed, they may slay him." The Mystery of Edwin Drood

"There are many pleasant fictions of the law in constant operation, but there is not one so pleasant or practically humorous as that which supposes every man to be of equal value in its impartial eye, and the benefits of all laws to be equally attainable by all men, without the smallest reference to the furniture of their pockets." Nicholas Nickleby

“These sequestered nooks are the public offices of the legal profession, where writs are issued, judgments signed, declarations filed, and numerous other ingenious machines put in motion for the torture and torment of His Majesty's liege subjects, and the comfort and emolument of the practitioners of the law.” The Pickwick Papers

"[The principle of open justice] is a cardinal principle of our justice system. It underpins the rule of law and our liberal democracy. It is a principle which requires the courts to engage with the public." LORD NEUBERGER OF ABBOTSBURY, Master of the Rolls for England & Wales, Judicial Studies Board Annual Lecture 16th March, 2011

"If you would like to know why there is so much injustice in this world, try rallying those prepared to fight it. Then you will understand."
"Be a lifeline to those who, having suffered injustice, might drown in a sea of apathy."
FRANK RICHARDSON, Founder of OpenTrial

"The rule of law in Thailand, Cambodia, and most of Asia is weak or non-existent: apart from a number of states and territories, across the continent there is a huge gulf between the rule of law rhetoric and reality. In Thailand, the police force is an organized crime gang. In Cambodia, judges are proxies for the ruling political party….That a judge may harbour political prejudice or apply the law unevenly are the smallest worries for an ordinary criminal defendant in Asia. More likely ones are: Will the police fabricate the evidence? Will the prosecutor bother to show up? Will the judge fall asleep? Will I be poisoned in prison? Will my case be completed within a decade?" AWZAR THI, a member of the Asian Human Rights Commission.

"Money, they say, is the root of all evil. The bench is definitely not the place to make money. A corrupt judge is, thus, a great vermin, the greatest curse ever to afflict any nation. The passing away of a great advocate does not pose such public danger as the appearance of a corrupt and/or weak judge on the bench for, in the latter instance, the public interest is bound to suffer, and justice....... is thus depreciated and mocked and debased. It is far better to have an intellectually average, but honest judge, than a legal genius who is a rogue. Nothing is as hateful as venal justice, justice that is auctioned, justice that goes to the highest bidder." JUSTICE CHUKWUDIFU OPUTA, Judicial Services Commission, Nigeria.

"Men won't do much for a shilling / For a pound they may be willing / For twenty pounds the verdict's in the sack." BERTOLT BRECHT - The Caucasian Chalk Circle

"While judicial systems are visibly present in most countries, those that work reasonably well are found in relatively few." ROBERT SHERWOOD University of California in Berkeley

"The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread."
ANATOLE FRANCE, poet, journalist and novelist, 1844 - 1924

"Laws grind the poor, and rich men rule the law. "
OLIVER GOLDSMITH, writer and poet, 1730 - 1774

"Laws are like cobwebs, which may catch small flies, but let wasps and hornets break through."
JONATHAN SWIFT, satirist, essayist, political pamphleteer, poet and cleric, 1667 - 1745

How OpenTrial tackles injustice

Despite massive ongoing investment (literally billions of dollars) in old fashioned, top-down rule of law building (with its focus on, inter alia, training sessions for judges, prosecutors and defence lawyers, setting up courts, putting modern police equipment in place, etc.) by prominent players in the field - such as the World Bank, the IMF, the regional banks and USAID – has seldom produced the rule of law, or improved the lot of the poor.

Today, however, with the advent of optical fibre cabling, mobile phone technology, broadband, computer and internet literacy, artificial intelligence and blockchain, ICT now has a vital role to play in making inadequate legal systems far more accessible, timely, transparent, accountable and effective. Likewise, the role of the media, through facilitating dialogue, changing expectations and norms, and making public the abuses of those in power, can go a long way to help advance the rule of law.

Our Method

We recommend an eight-pronged use of ICT and conventional media to reinforce and complement each other in providing legal information and enhancing law enforcement transparency and accountability:

1. Websites and social media
Specially designed social networking websites, economical with legalese, which provide and update legal information for the layperson and the professional, offer online courses about basic rights, inform about and facilitate ways to engage, use web applications to permit the reporting of violations that reveal patterns of corruption, abuse, etc., and which encourage discussions about due process issues.

2. Due process smartphone apps and web applications accessed through a web browser
Smartphone apps and web applications can help ensure correct crime investigation, pre-trial treatment and court trials. The apps inform, provide checklists and have a reporting facility. Results are sent for analysis and reports are produced to reveal patterns of incorrect procedure, mistreatment and perversions of justice. These apps improve general awareness of correct criminal procedures and inform the public of flaws, so that maximum and focused pressure can be applied to tackle legal system dysfunction in countries around the world.

The apps contain, in local and official languages, where they differ:
a. Applicable international conventions as well as a country's legislation, constitutional articles, and police protocols that set out fair trial and pre-trial (due process) rights and correct police procedures,
b. Checklists (couched in simple, non-legalistic language) for the user to assess whether
correct criteria have been complied with, and
c. A public violation-reporting facility to reveal patterns of corruption, abuse, etc. Reports can be made anonymously. The press can be encouraged to publicise regularly compiled reports.

The apps help deter unlawful detention, torture, demands for bribes and other in-custody abuse.

As an example, we have launched a pilot, smartphone ‘Rights of the Accused’ app in Malawi. Our aim is to produce Rights of the Accused reporting apps for every less developed country.

We also aim to use advanced artificial intelligence and litigation analytics to:
1. Answer questions about what the law is on certain matters, and refer to cases, legislation and constitutional articles in support of those answers and to clarify, and
2. Provide information about judges (and perhaps prosecutors too), such as biographical information, how they handle different types of cases, how their decisions stand up on appeal, how long they take to handle matters, etc.

This level of transparency and accountability has the potential to transform not just legal systems, but the lives of billions.

3. Computer games
Employing artificial intelligence, electronic/video games help people in the developing world, even the illiterate, counter endemic crime and abuse by furthering their knowledge of their rights and helping devise strategies to counter such abuse. At the other end of the scale, they can also be used to educate judges, police, prosecutors and lawyers about such rights.

4. Information, Education and Communication (IEC) materials
Posters, leaflets, booklets, articles for the press, etc., can promote a simplified version of relevant due process laws.

5. Focus-group discussions
These can be conducted in communities - in meeting rooms and even market places - with the aim of raising awareness about correct due process and to obtain feedback on the efficiency and deficiencies of the justice system and how to best get the message across . Discussions with and the lobbying of the government, judiciary, law society, academia, NGOs, lawyers, etc. are also vital to improve legal systems.

6. Radio, TV and street dramas, and interactive/reality programmes can be part of an integrated public service announcement (PSA) awareness campaign which will cover due process and other legal issues in local language using lay terms.

7. Music albums
Music is an excellent way of reaching a wider audience and of informing people about access to justice and the need for fair law enforcement.

8. Open Portal
A database, accessible online, which profiles justice system agencies (e.g. the judiciary, police and prosecution service) and those who staff them. The publicly available information will include codes of conduct, salaries, employment procedures, job descriptions, education/training and career development, budgets, expenditure, performance indicators, independent international reports, capacity building undertaken and planned, etc. We will collaborate with governments and judiciairies to gather this data.


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