Post-colonial Africa suffers from serious shortcomings in its justice systems, particularly in relation to citizen access to those systems. Can informal and traditional justice systems be considered a valid option in attempting to improve access to justice in Sub-Saharan Africa?
‘Access to Justice in Sub-Saharan Africa’ examines the role played by informal and traditional justice systems regarding access to justice. Examples are provided from Sub-Saharan Africa, and also South Asia (India and Bangladesh).
The book provides an overview of the different types of informal and traditional justice systems and their nature in sub-Saharan Africa, focusing on street committees and people’s courts in South Africa, popular tribunals and community courts in Mozambique and resistance committee courts in Uganda. The book also looks at formal court systems based on traditional and popular justice, such as local courts in Zimbabwe and local council courts in Uganda. There is a comparison between informal and traditional systems in Africa and examples of good practice involving informal and traditional systems in Asia. There is also a comparison of formal and informal justice systems, in addition to examples of current initiatives in this area (from Penal Reform International, Save the Children and the UK Department for International Development, among others).
The book finds that, like formal judicial systems, there are requirements for informal and traditional justice systems to work:
- Informal and traditional justice systems should not be incorporated in the formal state judicial system
- Informal systems should remain entirely voluntary and their decisions non-binding
- The state should not interfere with the appointment of informal ‘arbitrators’ within a community
- Jurisdiction of the traditional systems should not be heavily restricted but physically coercive measures should be prohibited
- Formal, legal representation before traditional and informal justice fora should not be required.
In order for donors to make effective interventions in the field of informal and traditional justice systems, they must:
- Conduct research into existing traditional and informal systems in a particular country in order to determine where, how and under what conditions they operate
- Human rights education and gender awareness training must be an integral part of any assistance to traditional and informal justice systems
- Criteria should be developed to measure the effectiveness of any project aimed at assisting traditional and informal justice systems. Appropriate disaggregated data should be collected before and after any intervention, employing participatory techniques.