Village court important

Editorial

SOME citizens do not fully appreciate or acknowledge the role of the village court even though it is a vital part of the law and justice sector in the country.
It is the lowest tier of court system but it does not mean it is the least important. Its effectiveness and success mean a lot to how the District Court, National Court and Supreme Court carry out their functions.
The four-tier court system established by the Constitution is a well-intentioned concept designed to serve the country well if all the physical and manpower structures are in place and functioning properly.
When there is a breakdown in law and order in rural communities, it is the village court which deals with it first.
The village courts began operating after Independence in 1975 and up until recently have been very effective. Village court peace officers were community constables who had power to arrest suspected law-breakers and take them to court.
In criminal cases outside the jurisdiction of the village courts, the peace officers can escort the suspects to district stations and hand them over to police officers who then lay appropriate charges and have them appear in the district court.
Because of the authority village courts carry, they enjoyed the respect and confidence of the people. Magistrates and peace officers are revered.
But that seems not be the case anymore in some provinces. There is a general breakdown in the rule of law in many rural parts of the country.
And while some may blame that on the lack of police presence and the decline in government services, part of the reason is because the village court officials have lost the respect and honour they once enjoyed.
Serious criminal offences such as murder remain outstanding.  Village court peace officers are unable to round up perpetrators for fear of being attacked themselves.
To make matters worse, police officers in district stations are handicapped by the lack of transport and logistics to follow up these cases.
In situations where criminals are allowed to roam freely in communities and control is relaxed, deterrents vanish. So the level of lawlessness inevitably increases.
This is the reality in many rural communities. One of the vital steps to restore law and order is to make the village courts more effective again and restore the authority and prestige they once enjoyed.
During a visit last Friday to Bereina in Central, Chief Justice Sir Salamo Injia came face to face with the reality of the state of the court facilities there.
The district court house badly needs repairs. As for the village court, it does not have a building. Cases are held out under trees for example. He hopes the Government will help elevate the village court system to the position in rural communities which it can effectively and efficiently carry out its tasks. Remember the village court handles about 80 per cent of disputes around the country.
Sir Salamo believes a review of the conditions of services, appointment process of officials and improvement to court facilities are urgently needed.
On top of that village court magistrates and officials must be paid appropriately for the services they provide. And they must be appointed on merit alone.
They must have a good understanding of customary laws to assist in their work.
The village court is recognised as a court of the national judicial system. Any plans to improve the capacity of the courts should include village courts. Sir Salamo for one firmly believes in that and said so too. The law and justice sector has not been given enough resources to maintain the rule of law in the country. Maintaining the rule of law is very important because law and order problems are threatening communities.
The law and justice sector agencies that work very hard to maintain the rule of law have not scored very well on the Government’s strategic thinking and planning, he says.
Credit must be given to the village court officials who work tirelessly despite the lack of attention from authorities.
Their biggest challenge though over the years has been the lack of logistic support and training for court officials.
Some of them have served faithfully for 20 years or more and will gladly continue for a few more years simply for the love of the job. But they deserve and should be given the support they need.
They deal with 80 per cent of the population. Surely they deserve more attention from the Government than what they are getting now.

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