Formal justice is not enough to ease access to and guarantee justice and need to be harmonised with traditional systems.
This was underscored by stakeholders in the justice sector from more than 15 countries across the continent during a three-day conference on collaboration between the judiciary and community justice institutions in Kigali yesterday.
The ongoing meeting discussing ways to strengthen collaboration between the judiciary and community justice institutions and facilitating access to justice.
The meeting and its background was premised on the fact that majority of Africans live in rural areas without required means to access justice.
“Due to challenges in formal justice, most Africans resort to more accessible community-based alternative justice. We are gathered here to look at some best practices from different countries and the deliberations we are going to have will be very helpful,” Andrews Kananga, the executive director of Legal Aid Forum, said at the opening of the meeting yesterday.
“This conference is an opportunity to discuss different types of community justice systems in different countries and how we can integrate them in mainstream justice systems.”
Chief Justice Sam Rugege said Africa has traditional quality justice that “we need to give value, improve and make more efficient.”
“There are too many barriers to access to mainstream justice, especially poverty that leads to inability to afford legal assistance and representation, ignorance of rights, issues of culture and language in some countries that makes justice unequal and unobtainable. With so many conflicts around the continent, we need to utilise optimally all means of resolving our disputes,” Prof. Rugege said.
“Community-based justice systems would help overcome many of the barriers to justice since they are inexpensive, aregeographically more accessible, informal, and culturally familiar and there are good chances of reconciliation and peaceful coexistence after the judgment,” he added.
It was observed that although some cases cannot be handled by community-based justice, majority of problems faced by Africans can be resolved by community-based justice mechanisms.
Participants commended Rwanda’s traditional systems of Gacaca courts and Abunzi, which help in the reduction of court backlogs as well as maintain harmony in the community through amicable resolution of disputes.
Mogoeng Mogoeng, the chief justice of South Africa, said access to justice is still a problem particularly in Africa.
There is need to have acceptable and quality justice delivered to all our people with credible and enduring solutions that understand our history and culture, he said.
“Synergising our activities is critical to make justice more accessible. We only need capacity building to have well-equipped paralegals who can interpret customary laws,” Mogoeng said.
Abdulai Hamid Charm, the chief justice of Sierra Leone, said the conference comes at a pivotal time, a time to define what justice means for African people in different countries, contexts and cultures.
“We acknowledge the importance of justice institutions in promoting access to justice but also realise the limitations of this formal system. Legal professionals need to collaborate with community-based justice institutions to attend to those in most need of the services we provide,” he added.