Last month International Alert held a 'court in the community' event in Lalitpur district, central Nepal, to increase public awareness of and trust in the formal justice system.
The event, which took place in Lele village on 14 March, was aimed at women, the poor and marginalised people in the community in particular, as they face the most challenges in accessing justice. This includes delays in the delivery of court summons, weak implementation of court decisions and undue delays in court proceedings.
Over 90 community leaders and members participated in the event, which was organised in coordination with the Lalitpur District Court, the District Bar Association and our local partners the Forum for Women, Law and Development (FWLD) and the Legal Aid and Consultancy Centre (LACC).
As part of its new five-year strategic plan, the judiciary recently introduced a judicial reform plan to enhance public trust in the courts, but also to make the courts more accountable to and accessible for vulnerable and marginalised groups, including women. Our outreach event formed part of this reform plan.
Five judges from Lalitpur District Court, the public prosecutor and lawyers spoke at the event, which was held at the local village development committee office. The chairperson of the District Bar Association welcomed participants and elaborated on the court system and services, including legal aid, mediation, and the newly-established help desks and victim and witness protection rooms.
The district court chief judge explained that the aim of the court in the community scheme is to assure people that the court is for people’s justice. He also explained the provision of fast-track procedures for settling different kinds of cases related to women, the poor and marginalised people, such as sexual and gender-based violence, and encouraged victims to approach the court for justice.
Community leaders and members got the chance to ask questions, express their legal concerns and receive responses from the judges and lawyers. "This was the first time I got the opportunity to directly interact with judges," said one participant. "This raised my hopes that people can get justice through the court."
"The court in the community event is an encouraging step by the formal justice system to improve and enhance access to justice," said another participant, who asked the District Bar Association to assist in facilitating the return of the goddess Sawsawti sculpture to the village. The sculpture was stolen from the local temple 30 years ago. When it was found by the Kathmandu police, instead of being returned to the village it was given to Patan Museum, in the capital, which houses artefacts of Nepal’s heritage. The chairperson of the District Bar Association assured the audience that it would legally petition the museum for the return of the sculpture.
Alert organised the event as part of our project, 'State and non-state partnerships for justice', which aims to strengthen the effectiveness, inclusivity and accountability of the formal justice sector in Nepal. The project is funded by the European Union and the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation.