The Ministry of Justice, with support from the World Bank, has developed a pilot conflict resolution program to address and settle a range of appropriate disputes and complaints. This will free-up scarce resources of the Judicial System and reduce over crowded court dockets. The MOJ ADR program was established in June, 2012 and has carried out and explored a range of possible avenues to accomplish the above goals and address the problems of an overcrowded court docket, congestion and backlog, as well as the scale-up of other minor offences.
Problems to be addressed
Various types of disputes and crimes are on-going problems in Liberia. The lack of effective institutions to respond to them often result in violations of human rights. The U.S. State Department’s 2014 Country Report on Human Rights Practices - Liberia notes, “The most serious human rights abuses were those linked to a lack of justice, judicial inefficiency, corruption, lengthy pretrial detention, denial of due process, and harsh prison conditions.”
Currently, the government-sponsored dispute resolution through courts is not as effective as it should be in providing speedy, efficient, cost-effective and broadly acceptable means of resolving conflicts. The MOJ/ADR program is aimed at introducing and trying new procedures need to be implemented that will increase its effectiveness and success in resolving disputes and dealing with offences.
Pretrial detention is mostly linked to overcrowded court dockets. As cases are processed at snail speed through the Court system, persons who are arrested and detained awaiting arraignment and or trial and others who have been arraigned but cannot post bail for their temporary release may be held for long periods simply because their cases are stacked up on trial dockets of magistrates and judges. The MOJ/ADR program will also explore ways of fast tracking both the review and resolving of the cases that are on these dockets. The program believes that if nothing is done in this regard the number of persons in the pretrial category of detainees will continue to balloon. Thus, the focus on the reduction in Court Dockets is imperative. Providing support to prosecutors through this pilot will enhance speedy trials and will reduce dockets and pretrial detentions.
The MOJ’s Dispute Resolution Program focuses on providing support and strengthening the prosecutorial arm of the Judiciary at the level of City Solicitors. The program will be Court-Annexed and mediation will compose the main method used by ADR to address and mediate several of the above issues; notably, the early and rapid settlement of appropriate civil disputes and other minor complaints, and the prevention of unnecessary pre-trial detention.
Recent Initiatives for Improving Access to Justice
There are currently a number of activities and initiatives outside of the formal Justice System that provide assistance in the resolution of a variety of disputes. Most notable are the work of customary authorities and Peace Committees in settling a range of civil disputes, and the Land Commission’s Local Dispute Resolution panels handling of housing, land and property conflicts.
These non-judicial procedures, however, are currently underutilized. Notably, while a Court Annex mediation working with City Solicitors is the primary focus of the MOJ ADR pilot, training and recording of cases/disputes resolved or mediated by Customary Justice Actors (Chiefs and Community leaders) will also be considered.
There have also been initiatives by the Ministry of Justice and the Judiciary to address Pre-trial Detention issues. These include the MOJ’s Probation Program and its Juvenile Diversion Program, fast-track case processing and/or pre-trial releases by the Magistrate’s Sitting Program (MSP), and efforts to develop procedures and legislation that would allow plea bargaining. The Regional Peace and Security Hub intended to create visibility of security apparatus in the communities and rapidly respond to and deter criminal activities, are commendable efforts.
While the initiatives above have had some positive impact on the number of disputes resolved, statistics (MOJ/BCR and UNMIL) indicate that there are still a large number of cases pending before the magisterial and other courts. The catalyst to the Ministry’s initiative is the potential positive aspects of an Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) Program designed to implement a pilot project to test the viability and increase the effectiveness of dispute resolution procedures at the national and local that would augment and complement the government’s judicial system and adjudicative processes.
Working (Day to Day Activities)
The ADR Program is structured into the following Pillars
• Training/Capacity Building
• Communications and Outreach
• Monitoring and Evaluation
• Protection of the rights of persons
Responsibility as Sector to the MOJ
Provide support for Prosecution and other departments at the Ministry to ensure improved access to justice for all with focus on overcrowded Court Dockets & Case back-logs, Prison over crowdedness and Pre-trial detention.
Mandate: Improving access to Justice for all
Vision: To advocate an ADR legislation/policy that will institutionalize ADR as a core component of Liberia’s Justice System
- Provide support and strengthen access to Justice Actors / Service Providers through training and capacity building
- Formalize and institutionalize ADR through the enactment of an ADR legislation/policy
Value: To promote peace and security through improved, affordable and speedy access to Justice for all
Progress to date:
- Established an inter-agency Steering Committee-that meets regularly to provide policy and implementation guidance for the successful implementation of the ADR pilot
- Conducted a Desk Review that researched existing alternative dispute resolution program and best practices around the region to inform the Liberia ADR Program
- Conducted a Scoping Study to showcase major disputes that exist in communities across Liberia and presented the report to major stakeholders and Justice Sector actors and made recommendations on how to resolve such disputes to be tested through the implementation of an ADR pilot
- Developed a Concept Note (CN) focusing on Providing Support and Strengthening Prosecution at the level of the City Solicitors as the focus of the ADR pilot to be rolled out in four counties, Grand Bassa, Nimba, Bong and Montserrado
- Established four pilot offices in the following counties: Grand Bassa, Nimba, Bong and Montserrado
- Established a Satellite Office at the National Traditional Council Headquarters in Monrovia
- Conducted a Study Tour of the Ghana Judiciary Service to learn from their ADR Program with the aim of adopting and applying best practices to the Liberian ADR program and legal system
Total funding committed since June 2012:
- Start-up period suffered delays
- Change in administration at the Ministry of Justice;
- The National Ebola crisis
- Change in TTL (Task Team Leader at the World Bank)
- Newness of the ADR Program to the Justice system; and
- The perception of legal practitioners for ADR to be mainstreamed in the Liberian Justice System, which led to their refusal to buy-in and give support to the ADR problem
- World Bank