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Date: 2022-07-01 Page is: DBtxt001.php txt2002040500
TVM Sector Perspective
How Sector Activities Impact People, Place, Planet and Profit

Chapter 4 - Governance ... Government
4-5 Judiciary

Legal and justice system MUST be functional

A legal and justice system needs to be in place. This can be either a central system or a local system, but it must have a functioning and have enough people and money to operate. It does not matter so much whether the system has a modern or traditional form ... what does matter is that it functions and that there is a socially acceptable ethical foundation for the society.

There are a lot of pieces in a fully functioning legal and justice system including (1) police; (2) courts; (3) prisons; (4) lawyers; and (5) legislators. The system is labor intensive and only works when there is sufficient reach for the criminal and illegal elements in society to have a reasonable expectation of being caught and convicted.

The rule of law needs to be fair, and justice needs to be universal. There is a lot of work that needs to be done so that everyone has some of the benefits of fair laws and equal justice. There are too many situations where the law serves to make something unethical, immoral or unjust, legal. This is particularly true in a lot of areas of commercial law, real property law and intellectual property law. In the case of Haiti, the whole question of fund flows related to oil has the potential to escalate into some form of violent power struggle.

Justice at the end of a gun is far too common around the world. Guns are bad news and guns are not a good part of a system of justice.

The judiciary should be trained and their salaries funded so that they are able to build an enabling environment for the local communities, for international trade and investment, and assure security. They need to be trained and the framework established so that the government judiciary is compatible with traditional local law and its procedures.

Customary Law

Places where there is social tranquility usually have a system of local, traditional or customary law that is functioning well. In my experience, even where there is no visible presence of “modern” law, a society still functions on an ethical basis that is for all practical purposes universally acceptable.

Haiti seems to be in chaos without very much respect for law ... but at the personal level and the family there is a lot of respect for law, both secular and religious. The fact that there are factions with guns and bombs and no respect for law and civil behavior does not translate into anything like a majority of the people being in favor of this kind of behavior.

The role of traditional law should be taken into consideration. The role of clan law needs to be better understood by those seeking to give advice and assistance in development, economic management and governance. Good governance in countries with poor economies and weak public finance requires a clever combination of what is good from traditional law and governance and what is generally accepted in the modern context.

Costs for a legal and justice system

I have helped prepared government budgets and plans in various parts of the “south” and have been faced with the need for legal and justice activities to be paid for through the budget. A modern legal and justice system along the lines of the systems used in the “north” is beyond the financial capacity of most “south” governments. When staff are very lowly paid, or paid late or intermittently, then all sorts of petty corruption starts, but when there is only a small reasonably paid staff it only reaches as small part of the population.

Increasingly communities in the “south” have had to address the issue of a working legal and justice system by reverting to traditional systems ... in many cases with excellent results.

During my work in Somaliland, I was able to learn something of the traditional system of clan justice, and was impressed with its reach to every single member of the clan. The fact that all of the society was part of the same system of traditional law made it more useful than the modern law, that had little impact on daily life for anyone except a very few.

In Mozambique, after its long civil war, it was impractical for the government to go through lengthy modern legal processes for all the young soldiers who had committed various forms of atrocity in connection with the war. They did not have the money nor the people to do it. Instead they reverted to community level traditional systems to punish and reintegrate everyone into their society. The system made it possible for the country to become a lot more stable and reintegrated than would have been possible using a more modern formal “north” approach.

And of course, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa broke tremendously valuable new ground in bringing together people who had been sworn enemies and committing atrocities for years in a reasonable length of time and at a manageable cost.

The text being discussed is available at
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