Mobile courts bring justice to rural Pakistan

A  newly launched mobile court in Peshawar
A newly launched mobile court in Peshawar. UNDP-supported mobile courts are helping to bring the rule of law to remote communities. (photo: Fatimah Inayet/UNDP Pakistan)

In a remote village in the outskirts of Peshawar, Pakistan, court is in session. The stenographer is typing away, the judge is listening intently and the air conditioner strains to keep the room cool as two property dealers from Hayatabad argue over US $6,000.

But this is no ordinary courtroom. This trial is taking place in a big green bus.

Since August 2013, UNDP-supported mobile courtrooms like this one have been dramatically cutting the length of trials, resolving legal disputes, and bringing justice and the rule of law to even the most remote and conflict-affected areas in Pakistan.

Highlights

  • Mobile courts cut travel time and increase access to justice in remote communities.
  • Six mobile courts will be on the road by the end of the year.
  • Civil cases resolved within six days on average, criminal cases resolved in two days on average.

In the property case in question — the court’s first — both sides settled through mediators and agreed to compromise on half the amount.

“We are happy now," says Atta-ur-Rehman, one of the complainants. "Since we reached the agreement ourselves, with the help of mediators, no party is feeling aggrieved. A dispute pending for over a year was decided in a matter of minutes here.”

Justice in Pakistan can be a lengthy ordeal. Some disputes drag on for years before they are settled in court. Others, in far-flung communities, may never have a chance to be heard.

In Pakistan, a sluggish justice system, elevated lawyers' fees and poor public transportation make access to courts particularly difficult. The rural poor, who cannot cover the expense of a court case, as well as women, whose social status leaves them vulnerable and with little support from the law, are at a disadvantage. Justice for such marginalized groups often appears elusive.

In many remote parts of the country, the situation was exacerbated by the recent 2007 – 2009 conflict, which damaged much of the justice and security infrastructure.

The US $95,000 mobile courts, however, could soon change this state of affairs.

“Access to courts will now become easier, especially for the poor as they will not be charged any litigation fees,” says Saira Bano, a female civil judge whom UNDP helped train to assist in the courts.

The new courts, which can resolve up to six civil or criminal cases a day, will also help decrease the workload of formal courts by focusing on minor, local disputes. In many instances, judges offer the contending parties a chance to reconcile their differences through mediation without recurring to a formal judgment.

Better yet, the courts save complainants the long and arduous journey to major city centres.

“More than half the population in rural areas travels to the cities to seek justice. Through the mobile courts, thousands of people now will have access to justice at their doorstep,” says Dost Muhammad Khan, Chief Justice of the Peshawar High Court. “We hope this initiative will help accelerate the administration of justice and deter crime.”  

The courts operate under the authority of the Peshawar High Court. UNDP intends to have six courts on the road within the next year. Nine judges and 18 advocates have been trained in alternate dispute resolution by UNDP in order to facilitate the resolution of cases through the new courts.

“Establishing respect for the rule of law is fundamental to achieving long-lasting peace in the aftermath of conflict, the effective protection of human rights, and sustained economic progress and development,” says Marc-André Franche, UNDP Country Director in Pakistan.

Support to the justice system is only one aspect of UNDP’s efforts to boost the security and justice sectors after the conflict.

Other UNDP support in the region includes efforts to bolster the police, local governments, prosecutors, bar associations, civil society organizations and other organizations with on-going justice initiatives. The Dutch and Swiss governments are providing financial support for the project.

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