Determining budgets for the justice sector is a contentious process in many countries. The judicial branch of government sees the fiscal branch’s demand for restraint and accountability as infringing its independence. This study, by the World Bank, looks at practices developed in the United Kingdom, France and New Zealand for preparing and implementing budgets, especially in relation to management of the courts. It shows that good budgeting can contribute to better justice.
Budgets that are well prepared and presented increase the chances that the additional funds needed to implement judicial reforms will be understood and accepted by finance officials. An effectively integrated approach can serve the fiscal management, accountability and transparency objectives of central government authorities in ways that also strengthen and support judicial reform, including increased judicial effectiveness and independence. However, even developed countries have made only the first tentative steps in this direction.
Good budgeting practices developed in the UK, France and New Zealand can be adapted to the specific needs of countries seeking to modernise and improve the management of their judicial systems. Budgeting may be further improved through the application of sophisticated financial management techniques that link growth in expenditure demands in the justice sector, particularly caseloads in the courts, to the budget planning process.
The successful introduction of new initiatives requires preconditions conducive to reform including:
- creating support for the process, especially among judiciary and court officials;
- allowing reforms to evolve;
- focusing on performance management; and
- having an effective collaboration between fiscal and judicial authorities.
There is no single model of performance budgeting methods but there are basic principles. How best to apply these principles needs to be determined in the light of several overarching considerations:
- The degree to which the public sector as a whole is moving towards a performance management approach.
- The assignment of justice sector and judicial administration responsibilities within the sector.
- The institutional framework of the justice sector and the “judicial map” of the country – changes to the structure of the courts, for example, will need to be accommodated within the framework of sub-programs.
- The current managerial expertise in justice sector organisations, including the courts.
- The level of capacity for data and information collection and reporting.
- The state of communications and information technology.
Each justice sector budget reflects a number of common characteristics:
- A sound programmatic structure for expenditure activities is essential for effective allocation and management of resources within the justice sector.
- A tiered budget and well-defined policy goals and objectives are important.
- An effective budgeting system requires selected output and outcome measures, good baseline information, accuracy, timeliness and a willingness to assess and address the managerial implications of performance information.
- Performance measures may point to areas of inefficiency that can be addressed by managers. Allocating budget funds to these problem areas may be only a small part of the required actions.
- Performance measures should be applied to revenue-generating functions of the judicial sector, such as the collection of fines and court fees. However, it is important that the incentives generated do not impact the quality of justice.
- Comprehensive financial and management reporting are essential both for credibility and enabling a performance-based system to function well.