New court house enhances access to justice in Sri Lanka
M.H.M. Ziyath watches with heartfelt pleasure as throngs of men, women and children fill the public benches and every available space of the new court house in Delft. It is the day of the inaugural sitting of the circuit court house newly established in the island and the first time after over 30 years that a judge sits to hear the grievances of the Delft islanders, in the Jaffna peninsula.
Ziyath, the District Project Officer (North) of the UNDP Equal Access to Justice Project (EA2J) recalls how he first visited the solitary islet in February, 2010 along with his team mates on a needs assessment visit. “We travelled throughout the island and listened to the problems of the people who were in extremely indigent circumstances following decades of conflict. The island’s court house had been destroyed in the 1970s following which the people had to take a 50 kilometre boat ride across the sea to the court in Kytes (another island) to seek justice. That very moment we decided to help the establishment of a court house and it is a must if the Delft people are to have access to justice,” he says.
Determined to make equal access to justice a reality for Delft, the EA2J team had continuous meetings with the government officials and authorities in the island to discuss the feasibility of setting up a court house, and it was during one such discussion that the Divisional Secretary, Delft offered the Divisional Secretariat’s conference room to be used as a circuit court house. “The people in Delft were in a truly dismal situation with regard to access to justice. Due to the geographical inaccessibility and the cost attached with travelling to Kytes, most disputes, including crimes like theft and rape were settled within the island. Having witnessed it, we could not but work tirelessly to set up a court house in Delft.
Jointly with the Ministry of Justice, we refurbished the DS conference hall into a court house and got approval for the judge of Kytes to sit there once a month. Everything was done within a couple of months due to the sheer enthusiasm of all the EA2J members and the court house was inaugurated by the Chief Justice in April,” says Charuka Samarasekere, Project Officer – EA2J.
“During the inaugural sitting, we were able to hear 25 cases from inhabitants of the island. Initially, the court will sit once a month. But, we hope to gradually increase the number of sitting as the Deft people are anxious to get their disputes settled through the formal judicial process,” the Magistrate of the new circuit court house in Delft, Mr. N. Wasanthasena states.
Equal Access to Justice Team - UNDP Sri Lanka