Judiciary - Justice - Open Justice - Participatory Decision-Making - Americas

Rebuilding Trust in Justice, Together

Costa Rica / September 19, 2021

Credit: OGP 


After years of distrust, the Costa Rican courts established a collaborative process for the public to determine how the judiciary should be reformed.

Costa Ricans and the Courts; A Long Overdue Reform

The Costa Rican courts have regularly ranked as the least trusted institutions out of a number of countries in Latin America. Costa Ricans feel disconnected from their judicial system, and suspicious management of pensions and salaries have only compounded the problem.

Costa Rica’s third OGP action plan, from 2017 to 2019, responded to the need for a paradigm shift in the judiciary, adjusting to the demands and needs of the Costa Rican people, with a commitment to an Open Justice Policy. This requires moving towards a more democratic, inclusive, and participatory process of running the courts, with oversight from citizens and civil society organizations.

The principles of transparency, participation, and public/official collaboration laid the foundation for a move towards a guaranteed right of access to impartial, independent, and equal justice. To achieve this, the Costa Rican government began by mapping out actors, getting a clear picture of the existing circumstances, and the development of citizen monitoring mechanisms and associations. This went along with clear guidelines to improve accountability to citizens, with particular considerations included for populations in vulnerable conditions. These measures were taken within the framework of the Sustainable Development Goals, approved by the UN, particularly objective 16: “Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, facilitate access to justice for all and create effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels ”.

Cooperative Courts Moving Towards Democratic Justice

This commitment established a baseline of concurrence between the court system and the implementing bodies, so as to ensure compliance at all levels. The implementation was headed up by a specialized commission — the National Commission for the Improvement of the Administration of Justice (CONAMAJ) — which had its own budget resources as well as support from the presidency of the court.

Through this commitment, the Costa Rican Judicial Branch became the first of its kind to draft a commitment for an action plan, co-created with civil society organizations and with an evaluation plan. In an effort to make the process more inclusive, and for the first time in Costa Rica’s history, government officials used courts outside of the capital city of San Jose, to collect input from communities and regions normally excluded from decision-making processes.

Civil society organizations, operating both locally and nationally, reported that the cooperation of the courts, providing high quality information and receiving feedback during execution was fundamental to its success. The full support of the courts, as committed at the outset, translated to openness to proposals, transparency with their own information, and a real sense of collaboration in pursuit of a shared ideal.

A Blueprint for Regional Change

The Open Justice Policy document, as a road map to a properly accountable and transparent justice system is one of the results of this commitment. But perhaps its main contribution is the development and dedication to the participatory process, the inclusion of the Judiciary Branch in the OGP process, and the quality and level of involvement of civil society organizations in the process of reforming the justice system.

The government and civil society hope that the collaborative model, and the insights they garnered for the Open Justice Policy document, can be put into a regional strategy. This could be a guide or blueprint to enhance access to justice across countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, with the highest possible levels of transparency and collaboration.

Last updated: September 20, 2021

Costa Rica