CUSTOMARY LAW, THE COURTS AND ACCESS TO JUSTICE IN LIBERIA
The International Legal Assistance Consortium (ILAC) today released a new report entitled Still Looking for Justice: Customary Law, the Courts and Access to Justice in Liberia.
In its report, ILAC examines the role of justice providers in Liberia. Under the country’s dual legal system, this includes both customary authorities applying traditional rules to resolve minor crimes and civil disputes in rural areas and the formal judiciary, which applies statutory law and enjoys general countrywide jurisdiction.
These actors collectively play a key role in prevention and resolution of local conflicts that could trigger broader unrest. However, Liberia’s legacy of conflict and fragility pose continuing challenges to the ability of justice providers to fulfil their preventive potential.
The report draws on previous efforts to support greater engagement with customary justice in Liberia, and sets out recommendations on how to enhance access to justice by building on the strengths of the country’s dual legal system. It was made possible by core funding provided by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida).
The report is based on the work of a team of experts representing four ILAC member organisations that carried out a needs assessment in Liberia in April 2019. It builds on earlier ILAC work in Liberia, including a 2003 justice system assessment conducted directly after the end of the conflict, as well as a 2004-2010 program supporting justice reforms.
The approach of the report, including attention to customary justice, was shaped by an ongoing dialogue between ILAC and the g7+ group of conflict-affected and fragile states. This dialogue has focused on priority needs and challenges for fragile countries in implementing the justice goal – sustainable development goal 16 – of the UN 2030 Agenda.
Engagement with customary justice can be an important means for any country with plural legal systems to increase access to justice. This dynamic has been recognised by ILAC members such as the International Commission of Jurists, which is conducting a general inquiry on customary justice and the rule of law, including regional workshops.
Work with customary justice can be a particularly important means for conflicted-affected and fragile countries to expand access to justice despite constraints on their formal justice systems.