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Using legal empowerment to curb corruption and advance accountability

Legal empowerment refers to the use of laws and rights to increase relatively powerless populations’ control over their lives. A growing field, it overlaps with social accountability but emphasises laws and rights. Legal empowerment can help curb corruption and promote accountability in education, health, budgeting, formal and informal justice systems, and democratic governance. Development agencies, governments, and civil society should take account of the many ways in which legal empowerment can bolster anti-corruption efforts.

19 February 2020
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Using legal empowerment to curb corruption and advance accountability

Main points

  • Legal empowerment is about helping people to know, use, and shape the law.
  • Legal empowerment helps build people’s capacities and power to improve their lives, such as by elevating and protecting their income and assets or gaining greater access to health and education. This may involve combating corruption in both explicit and implicit ways, as corruption is often an obstacle to such goals.
  • Legal empowerment can help equip people, especially the poor and marginalised, to use the law to enforce their rights, which are often violated as a result of corruption. People can enforce their rights through social accountability processes that seek to monitor public officials and public services, or they can take their cases to courts of law or administrative bodies.
  • Legal empowerment also equips people to advocate for and effect changes in laws, rules, systems, and regulations in ways that will improve their ability to enjoy their human rights and live better lives.
  • Civil society organisations are leading promotors of legal empowerment activities, although government agencies can also play a role.
  • Donors should support legal empowerment as a multifaceted means for constraining corruption, often in the context of sector-specific programmes.

Cite this publication

Golub, S.; (2020) Using legal empowerment to curb corruption and advance accountability. Bergen: U4 Anti-Corruption Resource Centre, Chr. Michelsen Institute (U4 Issue 2020:4)

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About the author

Stephen Golub

Stephen Golub is an international development scholar and consultant with more than 25 years of experience in over 40 countries, working in such fields as legal empowerment, access to justice, civil society, countering corruption, and violent extremism.


All views in this text are the author(s)’, and may differ from the U4 partner agencies’ policies.

This work is licenced under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International licence (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0)


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