Reducing Court Delays: A Critical Element in the Fight Against Corruption

One consistent finding from the research on anticorruption policy is that those tempted to commit an act of corruption can be deterred from doing so if they are afraid they will be caught and punished.  That is the good news.  Deterrence works. But as I noted in an earlier post, deterrence requires a court system that can resolve cases within a reasonable time.  If those contemplating whether to take or pay a bribe or participate in some other form of corruption know that, if caught, they can delay the case for years if not decades, the fear of punishment will be lessened if not eliminated altogether. An effective national anticorruption policy thus requires ensuring cases are resolved without inordinate delay.

Court delay is a long-standing problem in many nations, and courts in any number of jurisdictions have implemented programs to reduce delays. Few, however, have succeeded.  In a new policy brief for the U4 Anti-Corruption Resource Centre I argue that one reason why so many delay reduction programs have failed is that they have ignored how the formal and informal rules governing case disposition shape the incentives of judges, lawyers, court staff, and litigants.  I urge that a successful delay reduction strategy must start with such a “political economy” analysis and that reforms be built around what that analysis reveals. Comments welcome.

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