This week, I have continued researching how to increase access to justice systems in countries with limited judicial resources and geographically isolated populations. To focus my research, I did an analysis of African nations facing these issues and practices implemented to combat them. In Africa, justice, legal systems, and the rule of law can be difficult to access for rural populations. Geographic isolation and limited government resources often limit rural populations’ access to formal legal systems. Therefore, these populations rely on customary law, an informal system of law based in tribal and communal traditions enacted by local chiefs and elders. Although reliance on customary law creates two legal systems, access to justice remains inequitable, especially for those in marginalized groups.
To ensure access to justice for all populations, cohesion between the formal and informal legal systems must exist. Informal systems have to adopt formal protections for marginalized populations established by statutes and constitutions. To do so successfully, the community and its leaders must support the process and have a desire to provide a more equitable justice system. For example, one of the more successful integrations of formal and customary legal systems has occurred in regions of Somalia in which communal leaders led the drive to incorporate the formal system into the operations of the customary system with the intent of increasing accessibility and equitability. Additionally, the formal system must increase its presence in rural areas to make it more geographically and economically accessible. One-way formal systems can do so is establishing mobile courts, formal government courts that travel to rural regions to hear the cases of the local population. Mobile courts have been successfully utilized in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Uganda. In both countries, formal mobile courts traveled to rural areas to hear trials involving murders, sexual violence, and children. This in turn increased accessibility to the justice system for marginalized populations.
Ultimately, creating cohesion between the customary and formal legal systems will increase access to justice, especially for those in rural regions and marginalized populations. There are many ways cohesion can exist between the two systems, including those discussed above. I look forward to continuing my research and finding more ways in which cohesion can be created and access to justice can be increased.