Bringing Justice to the People


JUDGE FLORENCIA FREITAS, FROM SUAI DISTRICT COURT, DELIVERS SENTENCING DURING A MOBILE COURT SESSION HELD IN MALIANA ON 26 NOVEMBER. PHOTO: SLAVA MYSAK/UNDP TL

Maliana –   A father’s assault on his eight-year old daughter. Five violent deaths rooted in a land dispute between family members. A conflict involving religious differences results in homes being destroyed and neighbors in fear for their lives. Since these three crimes happened in Maliana, trying the cases would normally require all those involved to travel three and a half hours on often barely passable  roads to reach the local district court in Suai. (Lee versaun Tetum iha ne'e)

Highlights

  • Mobile courts are designed to overcome infrastructure problems like poor roads and a lack of transport, which make it difficult for defendants, witnesses and victims to get to courts.
  • From 2010 to 2013, 184 cases were held and more than 2,000 people attended mobile justice sessions and outreach sessions.

Instead, these and nine other cases were heard in a makeshift courtroom at Maliana’s Municipality Building from 25-27 November as part of a mobile court programme that brings Timor-Leste’s justice system to people living in remote areas.

”Bad road conditions, the lack of money for transportation, and the remoteness of some areas hamper our efforts to get defendants, victims and witnesses to the court in Suai,” said Álvaro Maria Freitas, Suai Judge Administrator. “With the mobile court, we can facilitate communities’ access to justice, resolve pending cases and reduce backlogs.”

Support for the mobile court initiative has been provided by UNDP’s Justice System Programme (JSP) since being launched in 2010. It is part the JSP’s efforts to help citizens understand their rights and ensure they know how to access those rights. The project also includes legal outreach sessions which are held throughout the country to raise communities’ awareness of their rights and of the mechanisms in place to ensure they can realize those rights, ultimately increasing access to justice for the population.

Currently, the four district courts of Dili, Baucau, Oecussi and Suai cover Timor-Leste’s 13 districts. Tough terrains, transportation and limited financial resources often make it difficult for people in remote areas to reach their local district court.

During 2013, 96 cases were handled during mobile court sessions. Since 2010, the mobile courts have handled 184 cases, involving more than 2,000 participants in the related outreach sessions.  This was approximately three times the number of cases that would have been heard in the Suai district court during the same period, drastically reducing the backlog of cases in Suai and making justice more accessible for all.

In the last mobile court session of the year, defendants, victims and community members attended hearings both of simple cases presided over by a single judge, and of more complex cases requiring a trial panel of three judges.

“When community members are able to attend the sessions and see how the Court works, their trust in the formal justice increases”, said Florencia Freitas, Suai District Court Judge.  “People feel encouraged to come forward and give their testimony after attending the hearings”.

“Mobile justice is a wonderful example of a simple solution to the problems people in remote areas face in going to court,” said Mikiko Tanaka, UNDP’s Country Director. “UNDP is pleased to have supported this issue and will continue to provide technical, financial and logistical support to the government until such time as it is ready to fully take on the initiative.”

For more information, please contact Slava Mysak, Access to Justice Advisor, at slava.mysak@undp.org