Alternative Mechanisms for Expanding Access to Justice in Latin America

The use of alternative justice mechanisms in Latin America and the Caribbean has grown over the past decade. These alternatives include mediation, peace courts, and indigenous and community justice practices. They have enormous potential to facilitate access to justice by reducing the cost, time, and bureaucracy associated with the formal justice system. This is especially true for marginalized populations. Still, these alternative approaches remain "experiments" in the eyes of most formal justice sector actors in the region, mostly because there is limited evidence supporting the extent to which alternative mechanisms have improved access to justice for the most marginalized.

This project aims to develop a regional comparative framework for assessing the effectiveness of alternative justice mechanisms in promoting greater access to justice, particularly among marginalized populations. Researchers will also review implementation challenges. They will explore options to enable greater collaboration between formal and informal justice mechanisms by outlining key areas that offer the potential to enhance access to justice.

The Justice Studies Center of the Americas (JSCA), an autonomous agency of the Inter-American system, will conduct this research. The approach will include a baseline study that will develop an inventory of initiatives and a theoretical framework to capture the main schools of thought and practice. Researchers will also participate in multidisciplinary, country-based case studies, and produce synthesis and policy papers for public officials in the region. Outputs will include a special issue of the Judicial Systems Journal, conferences, and webinars.

Specifically, the project will:

  • generate sound policy recommendations to increase access to justice for the most vulnerable;
  • identify research gaps and major trends related to the implementation of alternative justice mechanisms in Latin America; and,
  • strengthen the capacity of JSCA's network in the region, including research partners, policymakers, and operators.

The project fits well with IDRC's Governance, Security, and Justice program priorities and addresses some key research questions: What are the implications of competition/collaboration between formal and informal courts for access to justice? What are the implications for the rights of citizens?

Project ID


Project status


Start Date

Monday, January 21, 2013

End Date

Thursday, January 21, 2016


36 months

IDRC Officer

Ceballos, Florencio

Total funding

CA$ 638,000


North and Central America, South America, Chile


Governance and Justice

Project Leader

Jaime Arellano Quintana


Justice Studies Centre of the Americas

Institution Country


Institution Website