Billions of people around the world live at the margins – pushed or kept out, often in silence, without adequate protection of the law. Denied healthcare, citizenship or fair pay, those unprotected by the law have problems that are both real and relentless, impacting their ability to reap the benefits of sustainable development. Despite this crushing reality, access to justice is a bedrock principle undergirding human rights. Despite its centrality, justice was not explicitly included in the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). This omission was corrected when the SDGs were adopted with a stand‐alone goal on justice. While Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 16 was the result of years of political, strategic and scholarly work by human rights advocates, development practitioners and academics, its promise lies beyond the technocratic realms of development programming, by insisting that people's own experience of justice – and injustice – must remain at the center of efforts to assess progress toward a world where no one is ‘left behind’.