“Mobile Justice” as a way of bringing public services closer to the population

April 1, 2022

Woman in Fulacunda after using the mobile Civil Registry. Photo: Ricci Shryock

In our latest blog “What can Behavioral Insights teach us about the House of Justice?”, the UNDP Accelerator Lab Guinea Bissau explored how behavioral insights could help us learn about the functionality of the newly constructed House of Justice (HoJ) in Gabu. The findings are currently being used to inform the process and design of a new House of Justice in Buba.  

One of the main findings of the study was that those who use the HoJ in Gabu, lived in close proximity (no further than seven km distance away from the building). In collaboration with the UNDP Governance Cluster, the Lab set out on a journey to learn about the possibilities of using a mobile unit (Mobile Justice) to decentralize public service provision and bring it closer to the most isolated communities.  

Interior region of Guinea Bissau


One of UNDP's goals is to facilitate citizens' access to the justice sector. Today, people travel more than 50 km to the nearest regions in search of justice services. To test Mobile Justice as an innovative solution with the potential to decrease the distance between the most vulnerable population and basic justice services, as well measure the relevance of a mobile unit providing justice services, the Lab set up a robust multisectoral team, which included: 

  • The head of the Ministry of Justice

  • The Director of Legal Information and Consultation Office (GICJU) 

  • Administrative and technical personnel from Saudigitus

  • Technicians from the Saúde Bandim Project (PSB) 

  • The conservator of the Civil Registry (CRS) of Gabu

  • The conservator of the Civil Registry (CRS) Buba 

  • Legal assistance technicians and assistants from CAJ Gabu and CAJ Buba

  • Representatives of civil society (Quinara and Tombali ) 

A minibus was used to travel to the most remote and difficult-to-access locations in the regions of Gabu and Quinará, taking on board the Civil Registry and the Center for Access to Justice (CAJ) services.

Map of Guinea Bissau showing regions selected for the test. Illustration: Isa da Costa, UNDP Accelerator Lab Guinea Bissau

The test was designed to measure the effect and relevance of the mobile unit by comparing flows/ users of the Civil Registry and CAJ at fixed points versus mobile points. During eight days, a total of 451 people used the civil registration mobile service and 503 people used the CAJ mobile service. In addition, 20 Key Informant Interviews (KIIs) were carried out with users of the mobile unit to collect information on their perception of the approximation of justice services.  

Civil registration in the mobile unit, Fulacunda, Guinea Bissau. Photo: Ricci Shryock

Main Findings

An analysis of  20 interviews with users showed that, in general, there is great interest in gaining access to the CAJ and civil registry services, and that the initiative was well appreciated by the population and by staff of the Ministry of Justice. 

“The test was received with great satisfaction and gratitude from the communities, where the team passed through; they received legal information on their fundamental rights and were sensitized to avoid violations of their rights. With respect to future interventions, many participants stated that they would turn to the nearest CAJ for consultation and legal information when the need arises.” - Nadilé Pereira Banjaqui, Director of CICJU

“The test brought justice services closer to the population and also served as a mechanism for raising awareness and publicizing these services. Statistical data showed that mobile justice is the solution to access to justice in our communities, as it is known that the most vulnerable population does not have the financial means to travel to the civil registry office or the nearest access to justice centers.” – Enelita Correia, Director of Studies and International Relations Service, Ministry of Justice

The biggest obstacle perceived by the population when it comes to access to justice services (CAJ and Civil registry), is the time and money spent to reach the fixed service posts, something that the mobile unit managed to address.

“I believe that if a few years ago the government had used Candonga di Justiça (a mobile unit), today all children would be registered” - male, 40 years old.

“I didn't go before because of the distance and I don't know anyone there” - male, 56 years old.

“I didn't go to register my child before because I had a cesarean section and I couldn't travel to the registration center in Buba to register” - female, 24 years old.

“The mobile unit should come back more often; it can make a big difference in the lives of the population” - female, 23 years old

Population gathering outside the mobile civil registry in Fulacunda, Guinea Bissau Photo: Ricci Shryock

Test A and B 

During eight days on the road, the team carried out two tests. Test A focused on the Civil Registration Service and had a daily average of six people/day at the fixed point compared to 65 people/day at the mobile station. 

Test B focused on the CAJ service which normally had an average attendance of two people/week at the fixed service point compared to 488 people/week at the mobile service. CAJ has a service where citizens can make complaints and that supports them in understanding their rights and how to acquire them. It is important to note that during the test, several children under the age of seven mistakenly paid for civil registration using the mobile unit, when it should have been free for them. The parents of these children took the opportunity to use the CAJ service to complain, justifying the extremely high usage numbers of the CAJ service. 

Family using the mobile Civil Registry in Pirada, Gabu. Photo: Isa da Costa, UNDP Accelerator Lab Guinea Bissau

Has Mobile Justice been used before? 

During a visit to Cape Verde in October 2021, the Accelerator Lab had the opportunity to visit the Casa do Cidadão, a public institution responsible for implementing the 2004 Public Administration Modernization Law. The meeting was crucial to understand how and why things are done the way they are in the public sector. The visit demonstrated new perspectives, opening opportunities for future synergies in digitization tests at the Ministry of Justice of Guinea-Bissau. A project shared by Casa do Cidadão, was the “mobile unit” that for ten years provided justice services to isolated communities in Cabo Verde. According to the director of Casa do Cidadão, the mobile unit was crucial at a time when there were not enough physical structures before the digitization of justice services was implemented. Cabo Verde is a success story where the vehicle filled the gap until there were physical spaces on all the islands. 

Women waiting to access the mobile Civil Registry in Pirada, Gabu Photo: Isa da Costa, UNDP Accelerator Lab Guinea Bissau

Looking forward

The Governance Cluster has received funding for implementation/ piloting of the "Mobile Justice Project. The follow up stage will entail the design of a prototype incorporating the aspect of digitalization, scaling of the test to cover all regions of the country and incorporate more justice services in the vehicle. Additionally, the next test will look into how mobile justice can be brought to the Bijagós Archipelago, where some of the islands are extremely isolated.