THE primary role of the village courts is to ensure peace and harmony in the communities in which they operate: Village Courts Act, s57.
This is significant, in that it moves the emphasis of the role of village courts away from a winner/loser determination of disputes and allows village court magistrates to take account of a larger group of people.
This may involve compromise in a way that is acceptable, not just to the parties to a dispute, but also to the wider community
However, this is not the case with at the moment in terms of adjudication of matters fronting this third-tier courts.
Ultimately, village court was established to provide justice to bulk of the population in rural settings.
This court is also found in urban areas and has a mammoth task to dispense justice according to urban settings.
The respective authorities have an obligation to take note of this.
They have to assess how this court is effectively functioning with challenges faced in urban settings.
One of the challenges and contradicting issue is land disputes in relation to the State’s land adjudicated at the village court’s jurisdiction.
Although it exceeds village courts; powers as prescribed in sections 43 and 48 of the Village Court Act 1989, this court is muscling its way to adjudicate the State’s land dispute matters.
How court officials deal with such matters depend on their credibility in dispensing justice accordingly. Bulk of the population in settlements are becoming victims of these courts presiding of matters such as gender-based violence, domestic violence and other social issues.
Alarmingly, the village court at Morata has failed its obligation to work with other legislations.
This in terms of not observing, considering and taking heed of National Capital District Commission’s physical planning team who issued the “stop work” notice last year.
Under Section 98 of the Physical Planning Act, this notice stops illegal settlers from erecting new structures, selling or buying land, going to court and stops new settlers from coming in.
Whether the responsible authorities are ensuring that the notice is adhered to is a matter of concern.
Village courts lack capacity in certain areas to effectively and efficiently carry out their constitutional functions.
For instance, bulk of the court officials are aging individuals who have little or knowledge of the Village Court Act 1989, which regulates and administers their functions.
Thus, there is urgency for review of the conditions of services, appointment process of officials and maintaining to deteriorating court facilities.
Village court magistrates and officials should be paid appropriately for the services they provide and should be appointed on merit.
Alex H Jafa,