Upholding the wheels of justice


MAGISTRATES and police cannot be available in the remote parts of the country, thus the work of mediating disputes and bringing peace falls on the laps of village court officials and land mediators.
In most villages, while the land that each family or clan owns remains the same, the number of people in those groups have spiraled up, causing land disputes. Land disputes are a common issue in remote places because land still determines status and whether or not one can garden or feed their family.
In Morobe, a province that runs from the coast up into the mountains, land ownership disputes have spilled over to debates over ownership of sea area- reefs and sandbanks.
In the past, reefs were valued as fishing ground for all village fishermen and sandbanks were for communal picnics, diving and swimming but that notion has gone to dereliction with villagers now wanting to stamp ownership over these landmarks (or seamarks) which they now see as having economic value.
Six cases from Finschhafen and Sialum have been referred to Lae local land court; similarly for Siassi Islets and Salamaua Point.
There is no specific Act (Law) to deal with ownership of reefs and sandbanks which makes it complicated for land mediators and village court officials to deal with.
Morobe’s pioneer land mediator Awa Naeman said, “marine lawyers, department of transport and National Maritime Safety Authority (NMSA) need to devise a way forward,” on the matter.
Land mediators are also challenged with issues involving road construction, mining and logging operations, all of which are carried out on land belonging to someone or a group of people.
They have to walk the length and breadth of a piece of disputed land to survey and identify genealogy and cultural evidences before working out solutions.
Village court deals with human social issues.
Infamous ones are underage pregnancy, marital and sexual offences, sorcery practices, stealing and murder, drug and gun trafficking, child abuse, molestation and rapes, violence against women and children; arson, illegal migration and settlement, unwanted pregnancy over disable women…etc.
Over the years village court officials have been using an outdated manual called ‘wok mak’ to mediate. The content of wok mak manual is outdated considering the current trend of events in remote and urban villages.
Officials work hard to provide evidenced-based reports with serious cases referred to district courts for determination.
Not all officials are educated to grade 12. Some are semi-literate while others are retired public servants.
As frontline warriors, they courageously negotiate through the proverbial bows and arrows shot at them. With no time limit placed on them, they work as quickly as possible, but also prudently.
Work for these officials is on a voluntary basis. Women village court officials are also on the rise.
The appointment of village court officials and land mediators is based on their community standing, a general understanding of family lineage, knowledge of land boundaries in their specific areas, and good public speaking.
Morobe provincial senior district court magistrate Tera Dawai, and provincial village court officer Reuben Ason are going out to the 33 LLG’s in nine districts of Morobe, together with Australian accredited certified trainers John Shadrach, Albert Jack, Michael Steven, Desmond Kukari, Eddie Rabisan, Lewis Kenny, Lancelot Kamake, Siwan Patiuwatu, Novi Giatrus, Ango Muving and James Neapukali embark on training sessions that will soon see the replacement of the Wok Mak manual.
The four modules of the training are introduction to village courts and village courts Acts 1989, village court sitting procedures, communication and mediation skills, leadership and ethical decision making.
The approaches in four modules are village court requirements and process, penalties, compensation and court orders, ethics, integrity and accountability, full village court procedures, mediation and settlement process, hearing a complaint that is an offence, appeals, leadership and corruption, joint sittings, village court inspections and children, types of communication, impact of perception and barriers to communication, family and sexual violence, questioning skills, practical legislation are some of many new topics.
Morobe has 87 gazetted village court areas with 11 court officials per village court area totaling 957 officials. Twelve others who were recently commissioned are yet to be gazetted.
So far, 814 out of the 957 officials have received training while the remaining from Menyamya and Tewae-Siassi are yet to be visited.
All 128 land mediators in Morobe have been trained except for those in Lae.
“Without village courts and land mediators, surely the society’s fabric will be untied by human nature as a result of developmental issues,” Dawai said.
“The knowledge and skills taught is to empower the officials never to shirk but to perform without fear and favour.”
“In court room, Law has no brother, sister, nose, mouth and feelings” Dawai said during the commissioning of 88 village court officials and 20 land mediators from Kabwum and Wasu at Kabwum station on Sept 29.
Dawai said that there is no written law for village courts and land mediators unlike the written laws used in district, national and supreme courts.
“You are the frontline people to slash thick bushes, we at the district, national and supreme courts are ready to support you whenever situations decide” Dawai said.

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