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New study examines litigation in developing countries

Courtney Ball | Wednesday, October 4, 2006

Daniel Brinks, a Notre Dame graduate and professor at the University of Texas at Austin, spoke Tuesday about a large collaborative initiative being directed by the Kellogg Institute that focuses on individual rights to health care and education.

Funded by the World Bank, Brinks’ research project is entitled “Law and Rights in Developing Countries: The Impact of Legal Strategies on Social and Economic Rights,” and aims to determine the role litigation should play in developing countries.

The comprehensive study focuses on the countries of Brazil, India, South America, Indonesia and Nigeria.

American society is fond of litigation, suing over cases of spilled McDonalds coffee, and is accustomed to generally “getting what they sued for,” Brinks said. However, he suggested the addition of American-style courts might not be the positive step these developing countries require.

“Litigation is an expensive, often elite-based activity … It is a luxury,” he said.

Brinks said he fears at least initially successful litigation campaigns can be expected to exacerbate inequality in the distribution of services.

Preliminary analysis of the study data also suggests that the court system expends substantial resources for individual gains at the expense of other services, he said. Five percent of Brazil’s annual budget is designated to judicial procedures instead of being allocated toward health services or educational improvements that would benefit all.

Despite this, Brinks said he hopes to find that the increasing number of court cases demonstrate beneficial developments in the long term. He said high volumes of cases may trigger policy changes which could result in broader access to social and economic services over a span of time.

Brinks said there still are significant barriers to the implementation of an effective court system. It takes three days to even get to a courthouse in Indonesia, and in India, the government fails to enforce favorable rulings.

Until the court systems can produce successful rulings, he said, they will remain under-utilized.

“People are unwilling to waste scarce resources on an avenue which appears ineffective,” Brinks said.

For now, the study aims to determine if improved litigation procedures are a desirable outcome at all for these countries. Ideally, the conclusions of Brinks’ study will ultimately provide an answer, he said.