Women pass the Dili District Tribunal. By the time of independence the judicial system was failing due to lack of educated staff, a well functioning administrative system and missing elements in the legislation.
Photo: UN Photo/Martine Perret
Judicial system improving
When the country became independent, most of the components required for the judicial system to function were missing, such as educated and experienced staff, a functioning administrative system and basic legislation.
As is the case in all other authorities, they have had to start from the beginning. Their success could be vital to how the country develops.
Kerstin Lindberg, country manager for East Timor at Sida, says:
“Most people are now optimistic about see the future. But much remains to be done. East Timor’s future depends on how it handles the reforms that are needed, especially within the security and legal sectors.”
The first national lawyers have graduated thanks to the United Nations Development Fund’s (UNDP) Justice Sector Programme (JSP) in 2003 to rebuild East Timor’s judicial system. Sweden is one of its many financiers.
Directly after independence, there were no East Timorese with adequate experience and training to manage operations. Lawyers were therefore recruited from other countries. The Legal Training Centre was then founded to bridge the gaps in knowledge.
In 2007, the first national judges, prosecutors and public-defence lawyers were sworn in. By then, they had completed two-and-a-half years of training. Since that time, a further two crops of lawyers have been trained and the national lawyers now perform an increasing share of the work within the judicial system.
Within the framework of the JSP, an IT system has been put in place, interpreters have been trained and work has been done to reach the population with information on and training in how a judicial system works in a democratic society.
Difficult to reach rural areas
Public confidence in the formal legal system is low. Many of the conflicts, especially in the rural areas, are still resolved by traditional ways of administering justice. The link between the traditional system and the formal one is weak.
Within the JSP, work is being done to strengthen the judicial system in three districts outside the capital, Dili. The lack of educated staff has so far made this difficult, but more lawyers are being employed outside Dili as they graduate from the Legal Training Centre.