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Mobile Courts: Bringing Justice Closer to the People UNDP Timor-Leste, Bernardino Soares, 26/06/2014

Maria Angelita, 56, waits to give her testimony and see a court working for the first time during a mobile hearing held in Liquiçá

Context The justice sector in Timor-Leste has developed from non-existent to functioning and self-sustaining in only 10 years. In 1999 there was not one court or trained lawyer in the country, while now the Court of Appeal and four District Courts are fully operational, staffed with full-time justice officials, with a full-time public defence and prosecution office in each court district. As highlighted in the country’s Justice Sector Strategic Plan 2011– 2030 (JSSP), however, accessing the formal justice system remains a challenge. The absence of courts in nine of the country’s 13 districts, combined with bad roads and poor or non-existent public transport makes people’s ability to access justice difficult and impractical, especially in rural areas. Access to the formal justice system is also hampered by the simple lack of awareness on the role and function of the justice institutions and the existence or content of national laws. For example, only 59% of people have heard of a court (The Asia Foundation, 2013), and the overwhelming majority use informal, local conflict resolution mechanisms. Against this backdrop, the mobile justice project was initiated by UNDP’s Justice System Programme (JSP) in 2010. This brings the justice institutions (courts, prosecutors, defence) to districts away from the court centres to hear cases and to provide legal outreach, assistance and education.

“With the mobile court, we can facilitate communities’ access to justice, resolve pending cases and reduce backlogs.” Álvaro Maria Freitas, Suai Judge Administrator


UNDP Timor-Leste, Slava Mysak, 26/06/2013

The mobile justice initiative was born out of the need and responsibility of the judiciary to address the challenges for communities in districts removed from the four court districts to access justice, and was developed through a consultative process with all justice institutions. Mobile courts have been identified by the Government as a valuable instrument to promote access to justice, and expanding their use was included as one of the justice sector performance indicators in the JSSP. Support for the pilot was initially provided jointly by JSP and the Australianfunded Justice Facility and since the end of the pilot in 2012, UNDP has been the sole partner with the Government on this initiative. JSP provides technical, logistical, and financial assistance to national justice actors to conduct mobile justice sessions. Initially, the pilot focussed on the Suai District Court, which would travel to Bobonaro, Ainaro and Manufahi districts to hold hearings, prioritising those which had been pending longest (usually due to witnesses being unavailable). Cases

Three-judge panel in a criminal trial during a mobile session held in Maliana, Bobonaro district were initially ‘simple’, meaning minor cases with minimal potential prison terms, requiring only a single-judge to attend. However, eventually multiple judges were included in the sessions, thereby enabling the formation of 3-judge panels necessary to try the most serious cases (e.g. rape and murder). Mobile justice has become a regular monthly part of the judicial schedule in Suai usually involving a collective (3-judge panel) and a single judge court sitting in parallel, maximising efficiency. Not only does this enable local people to see

Key Results From mid-2014, JSP’s assistance to Mobile Justice has been rolled out to other judicial districts, all 13 districts of Timor-Leste now have court sessions regularly.

184 cases have been handled at mobile justice sessions from 2010 to 2013. In the 2014 alone, another 345 cases were handled, 59% of which were related to gender-based violence.

The number of cases processed by

Suai Court has doubled in the past few years: in the first half of 2014, 123 were finalised, compared to 93 in 2013, and 61 in the same period in 2012. This is partly attributable to the regular use of mobile justice.

Some 3,500 people attended Mobile

Justice hearings and related outreach sessions.

the justice system in action, but it also plays an important part in reducing backlogs and speeding up case through-put. During 2014, in response to a request from the Chief Justice, mobile justice has been extended to Dili and Baucau District Courts with UNDP’s support. This is a significant step towards consolidating and institutionalizing Mobile Justice as an important mechanism for the effective administration of justice, and as a way of enabling people without a court nearby to access the formal justice system.

Impact Through mobile justice, cases which have been ‘stuck’ due to the parties’ inability to travel to the courts has progressed, thereby increasing efficiency and helping on clearing case backlogs. A fully operational mobile session allows the same numbers of cases to be heard in only a few days as would take weeks at the District Court. Moreover, mobile justice offers local communities the opportunity to see the judicial process in action, in what often is the first contact most Timorese citizens have with the formal state administration of justice (whether as participants or onlookers). This helps foster a better understanding and conceptualization of state justice among the rural population. Coordination between judicial actors, and of those with the police and local authorities, is also promoted with the project. In Suai, where mobile justice has been held systematically, this has already proven extremely successful and sustainable as, the court, prosecution and public defenders meet frequently; relating to mobile justice planning and, other matters.


Justice System Programme - UNDP Timor-Leste -

Fichas técnicas para o Sistema Nacional de Justiça do Timor Leste - ONU  

Projeto gráfico e diagramação

Fichas técnicas para o Sistema Nacional de Justiça do Timor Leste - ONU  

Projeto gráfico e diagramação