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The idea of Mobile Courts – A relevant approach to enhancing access to justice

A central argument for the initiation of mobile courts is premised on the need for accessibility and affordability of justice. Mobile Courts are an intervention by rule-of-law development practitioners, who view the challenges faced by communities emerging from conflict through a different lens. The programme as implemented in other post conflict countries demonstrates a strong imperative to integrate the principles that underpin progressive development practice into all transitional justice processes. The creation of effective justice institutions and the promotion of the culture of the rule of law and legal norms are essential as an integral part of progressive rule of law programmes. And mobile justice initiatives do supplement on access to justice initiatives especially when the post conflict nation is riddled with poor infrastructure, poverty amongst the communities and hardly effective justice institutions. The author discusses the participation of the national justice actors in the mobile courts initiative’s design and implementation of the programme and secondly the issue of a holistic review of the means available to achieve the objectives of the programme- an integration of the principles of mobile courts becomes essential to build a sustainable credible institutions on the one hand and assisting those who could otherwise not afford the costs of litigation. Mobile Courts initiatives reflect important principles in rule of law enhancement, characterized by a willingness to look beyond conventional programming trends and undertake strategies that recognize the impact of multiple actors across multiple sectors.

 

There is belief that there are at least types of non – legal interventions which are vital to strengthening the culture of lawfulness in a country like South Sudan - Community education often described as outreach persuades the community to participate in an otherwise new concept whose purposes are not clear and available. For this to occur communities must be aware of, understand the mobile courts and be effortlessly persuaded to engage and use such services. Mobile courts are tailored with the intention to take the courts to the people. It is widely believed that, in a post conflict setting with very poor infrastructure, weak capacities of the justice actors amidst an ever increasing demand for justice, mobile court can provisionally meet the access to justice needs of communities who live far away and usually fail to raise personal resources to make a court appearance (In a regular court, situated in an urban center).Until basic imperatives for survival are met, mobile courts initiatives become a viable option for easy access to justice. As a principle vehicle for the protection of rights, the mobile justice plans become a legalistic requirement to some extent to complement on existing dominant legal approaches on access to justice.

 

Post conflict countries emerge from conflict with a lot of challenges, with one of the most dominant being access to justice needs. Essentially, as such states become operational and the citizens look for peaceful means of resolving their disputes, such efforts might still be thwarted by a number of constraints ranging from finances and long distances to courts.

 

Sometimes, because of lack of accessibility to legal facilities; the backlog of cases increases because many litigants cannot afford to make court appearances for various reasons as enumerated above – Therefore the promotion of participation and ownership of the local communities is among one of the top priorities for mobile court initiatives to be effective.

Once the justice actors are on board regarding the mobile court sessions; a next step is conducting outreaches to educate the communities on the advantages of mobile courts – In East Timor where the author worked with UNDP, the hardest part was perhaps in convincing the Judges, the Prosecutor and the Public defender to embrace the mobile justice initiatives. Authorizations had to be sought from the Ministry of Justice; the office of the Prosecutor General and Public Defender General – these processes and other negotiations were extremely intense and lengthy, presumably because the government buy in amounted to a first step in the adoption of additional access to justice initiatives to the already existing ones. Once on board UNDP had to allocate resources for conducting outreaches, radio broadcasts to educate the communities on the importance of the mobile courts.

In the long run – upon the completion of negotiations and planning with government and the education of the masses, mobile courts became a darling of the communities, because the courts were brought to their door steps – if such an initiative is replicated in South Sudan, it will go a long way in improving access to justice provision for South Sudanese citizens. The court sessions are taken to remote areas, cutting the costs of transport and other related costs of litigation which might have not been easily available to the people who live very far away from courts.

 

 The author is a South Sudanese lawyer and senior consultant, a continuing legal scholar and writer on Democratic Governance and the Rule of Law and lectures at the College of Law, Juba University on a part time basis.

She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 

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