National institutions to take over mobile justice

Feb 1, 2013

Public Defender Marcal Mascarenhas watches as his client pleads guilty to domestic violence during a mobile court session in Maliana in November 2012. On his left is an intern from the Legal Training Centre. Photo Slava Mysak/UNDP TL

Dili – Mobile justice sessions in 2013 will become a project of national justice institutions, following a handover ceremony held late last year.

Mobile justice sessions, in which Timor-Leste’s district courts travel to remote areas or places which are cut off from the court because of bad roads, have been supported by UNDP’s Justice System Programme (JSP) and the AusAID-funded Justice Facility since 2010.

However, in November 2012, Suai District Court held both the 15th mobile justice session in Maliana, Bobonaro district and a symbolic hand-over in which national justice institutions took on responsibility for mobile sessions in the future.

“We are delighted at the success of these mobile sessions. This is down to the commitment and enthusiasm of the courts, prosecutors and public defenders involved,” said chief technical adviser to UNDP’s Justice System Programme, Nasrin Khan.

“Mobile courts are one of the most successful ways of bringing justice closer to the people. By taking the courts to the people, the justice system is accessible to rural populations and is also more efficient,” she said.

“By targeting cases in the most remote areas, and the oldest cases, this initiative also helped finalize cases which would otherwise have been outstanding for months or years. While the two year pilot project led by JSP and the Justice Facility has finished, UNDP remains available to support the transition to national ownership.”

Since 2010, 88 cases have been heard during 15 mobile justice sessions. Over 850 citizens have attended both the hearings and outreach sessions held after the hearings.

Currently, the four district courts of Dili, Baucau, Suai and Oecusse cover Timor-Leste’s 13 districts.

But it is often difficult for people to reach their local district court because of poor roads and difficult terrain.

The November 2012 Maliana session was conducted by Suai-based district judges, prosecutors and public defenders.

The 18 cases heard over the 2-days made this the most ambitious mobile justice session to date, requiring two mobile court rooms to be in operation simultaneously.

Both simple cases presided over by a single judge as well as more complex cases requiring a trial panel of three judges were heard.

“With each mobile justice session, we see increased interest, knowledge and awareness of the formal justice system, thereby increasing the number of Timorese who turn to it to report crime and resolve their disputes,” said Suai Judge Administrator, Judge Constancio Barros Basmery.

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