Backlogged court cases are being heard before a mobile court in Bentiu, from December 2020 through January 2021. The deployment of the mobile court mechanism in Unity State is significant as the area made headlines in 2018 and 2019 after a sharp rise in violence against women and girls.
The court, which was deployed to the region by the Judiciary and the Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs, is funded by the Government of Japan and supported by UNDP’s Access to Justice, Rule of Law and Human Rights Strengthening programme, in collaboration with UNMISS.
“Delays in the delivery of justice services creates a perception of denial of justice, and it erodes confidence in the justice system. By offering legal means to settle disputes or grievances rather than violence, the mobile court in Bentiu can promote peace and stability in Unity State,” says Christy Ahenkora, UNDP Resident Representative a.i.
Mobile courts are formal courts deployed from place to place to hear cases and ensure justice, for both criminal prosecutions and civil disputes. They are a stop-gap mechanism to assist the Government in re-establishing the formal justice system in parts of South Sudan and temporarily respond to shortages of judges, prosecutors and lawyers.
UNDP piloted the mobile court programme in 2017, and scaled it starting in 2018. Last month, mobile court hearings took place in Malakal to hear 129 backlog cases including 9 SGBV cases and serve displaced populations and their host communities, also supported by Japan. Additional deployments in 2020 include Kapoeta, Yambio and Terekeka, where the mobile court set out to hear 72 cases, 82 cases and 77 cases, respectively, supported by the Kingdom of the Netherlands.
“The establishment of mobile courts in South Sudan emerged as a result of reports of backlog of cases, arbitrary arrests and prolonged pretrial detention as well as lack of legal aid systems,” says Evelyn Edroma, UNDP Rule of Law Policy Advisor and Programme Manager of the Access to Justice, Rule of Law and Human Rights Strengthening programme.
Mobile courts ensure both the victims and perpetrators of crime experience justice. They are especially important to address cases of GBV, so victims in those locations receive timely access to justice in addition to other support mechanisms. In an example of the expanded access to justice that the mobile courts bring, a 65-year-old man was convicted by the mobile court and sentenced to prison for rape of a 10-year-old girl in Yambio.
The mobile court deployments also complement the establishment of the GBV and Juvenile Court in Juba, as well as Special Protection Units within police stations, and Justice and Confidence Centres. Each function as touchpoints which contribute to UNDP’s support to holistic and integrated GBV response through legal aid services and referral pathways for survivors to receive counselling, psychosocial support, and medical services.
Since 2017, 24 mobile courts have been deployed across nine locations (Kapoeta, Pibor, Rumbek, Ruweng, Terekeka, Yambio, Malakal, Yirol and Bentiu). More than 1197 victims of crime and their accused perpetrators who were on long periods of pretrial detention experienced justice.
So far between 2019 and 2020, more than 495 cases, including 44 sexual and gender-based violence crimes, received judicial decisions marking a 65 percent reduction in the targeted case backlog.