Since the adoption of the Constitution of 1990, Mozambique has been active in reforming both its laws and legal system. Two of the most important reforms introduced by the Constitution of 1990 was the separation of the judiciary and the state, and the inclusion of personalized human rights (as opposed to the rights of the people as a whole, as it had been recognized from independence until this date).
However, practical reforms to the legal system and Mozambique’s laws have been slow in trickling down to the citizenry, due to challenges to the practical application of such reforms. Other than the shortage of trained staff, the lack of dedicated infrastructure poses the greatest obstacle to reform. It seems to be such a small issue in comparison to staff shortages, but in fact, infrastructure deficiencies lie at the root of many issues preventing the effective implementation of the law.
The shortage of district courts is an excellent example of this. District courts are a vital part of the judicial system, the first level of courts that are recognized as an official part of the judiciary. As such, they’re supposed to act as the first point of entry to people wishing to bring more serious matters to court, and also for the trial of more serious criminal cases. However, only 60% of Mozambique’s districts have courts, which means that citizens living in other districts often have to travel long distances over difficult terrain to access such a court. The costs and time it takes to make one such journey often prove to be prohibitive, and a court case could require multiple trips. In addition to this, the judiciary struggles to maintain an image that it is separate from the state, as many of its district courts are housed in the offices of government buildings such as the district municipalities. Moreover, the district courts, legal counsel, and the criminal investigation units of the police (PIC) are often far apart, further adding to the burden on the people engaged in legal proceedings.
The lack of access to court and legal counsel further worsens another major obstacle to the implementation of legal reform. Due to inefficiencies in the transferal of legal information to the citizenry, which is further exacerbated by high illiteracy rates (45% of the population can’t read as of 2016), few people in Mozambique have a grasp on Mozambican law, or even understand what their rights are. As such, a high proportion of Mozambique’s population either don’t know how to see justice served or are literally unable (due to the high costs and physical distance) to pursue it.
The palaces of justice assure access to justice for all Mozambicans, without exception or exclusion, from the more simplistic to the more complicated matters.
Making a Place for Justice
Recognizing the need for infrastructure improvements, the Danish International Development Agency (Danida) has, through its Pro-Justice project, agreed to fund the construction of two palaces of justice, in the districts of Guro and Nampula.
Each palace of justice was designed to aid justice and support for Mozambique’s citizens, by housing the District Court, the General Attorney’s office, the Institute of Legal Assistance and Sponsorship (IPAJ), and the PIC’s offices in one building. In addition, the palaces of justice feature state-of-the-art facilities to aid in the efficient running of the offices, including computers and wiring for computer networks, air conditioning, plumbing, etc.
NIRAS was appointed to play a key role in seeing these two construction projects to completion: providing technical assistance around the monitoring and verification of the palaces’ construction. The services rendered by NIRAS focused on technical assistance in 1) contract and financial management, as well as related systems; 2) the facilitation of collaboration between Mozambique’s Ministry of Justice (MJ), the engineer, the building contractor, and Danida; and 3) the verification of finalized works and payment certificates issued by the engineer.
The technical assistance team also engaged in training MJ staff in the aspects associated with these three objectives and in contract management, thus empowering the MJ to manage such construction activities in the future without requiring outside assistance.
The justice palace of Guro was inaugurated in 2017. Justice Palace Nampula was handed over in May 2018 and inaugurated by the president of Mozambique on 28 June.
The palaces of justice are crime prevention centres, where citizens must be educated about the best procedures according to the law.