Local levels making justice accessible

Kokila Dhakal

December 3, 2020

14 MIN READ

Local levels making justice accessible
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ILAM: A boy from Mai Municipality in Ilam approached the Judicial Committee with the request to get the relationship with her parents documented.

The committee registered the application and summoned the ‘father’ for a discussion. However, initially, the so-called father denied having a relationship with the boy.

After a discussion in the committee, the man later confessed to being the boy’s father.

Currently, both of them live together. The father has been nurturing the boy properly. He has even enrolled the boy in a school.

Likewise, unable to stay together, a couple from Suryodaya Municipality in Ilam wanted to separate themselves. In fact, they had lived separately for around eight years. The wife approached the Judicial Committee seeking a divorce.

Facilitated by the Committee, both parties discussed the issue several times. Finally, the dispute was settled with the reunion between the husband and wife.

“Now they are on good terms and regret what they have done in the past,” Durga Devi Bhattarai, the Coordinator of the Judicial Committee said in a satisfied tone.

Beneficiaries say that the local JC has saved their time and money. They feel relieved when they need not go to the court or police and can share their problems with their representatives.

Similarly, a couple from Deu Mai Municipality was also fed up with the family rows they had had against each other. The verbal assault ended up in a physical assault level with the case finally reaching the Judicial Committee.

The Judicial Committee of the municipality summoned both parties for discussion. Later, the misunderstandings were resolved with the couple – who earlier wanted a divorce — agreeing to lead an ideal life.

Now, they are blessed with a child. The neighbors are impressed by their understanding.

These are some representative cases settle by the Judicial Committee.

The reappearance of the local levels in the locality almost after two decades together with people’s representatives have brought access to justice to the people. The Deputy Mayors of the municipalities or the rural municipalities who head the Judicial Committees have succeeded in resolving several disputes.

The Judicial Committee (JC) has been entrusted to resolve local disputes. The JC, besides reconciling the warring parties, give verdicts in most of the cases. This has made people’s life easier.

Each local level has a JC which has been functioning quite actively of late with each ward level having a mediation/reconciliation center manned by trained facilitators.

As the arbitrators are the people chosen by the disputing parties themselves, most of the cases that come to the JC seem to satisfy both groups.

There are several instances to establish that the cases that take even decades in the courts have been settled effortlessly by the JC in a short span of time.

That’s why, both the disputing parties and the JC members agree to the saying that the JC has been working towards a win-win situation.

Yet, there are some cases unresolved by the committee.

Ilam has ten local levels: four municipalities and six rural municipalities. Most of the disputes that come to the Judicial Committee here are related to land followed by domestic violence.

Sandakpur Rural Municipality witnessed as many as 35 cases registered in the Judicial Committee. Leaving four, all other disputes were acceptably reconciled.

This year Sandukpur received five cases to date. Shova Parajuli, Coordinator of the Judicial Committee is satisfied to inform that most of the cases coming to her committee have been resolved.

“Most of the cases which have come here are settled saving people’s time and money,” Deputy Mayor Parajuli said, “I wonder how difficult it would be if they had to go the district-headquarters-based court for the settlement.”

Sandukpur has allocated Rs 700 thousand for the committee in this fiscal year. Last year the JC had received Rs 500 thousand.

Parajuli says the committee did not experience a scarcity of budget last year as well.

According to her, the Suryodaya Municipality witnessed as many as 28 cases of domestic violence registered since the enforcement of lockdown on March 24.

She hails the scarcity responsible for the increased cases of domestic violence during the lockdown period.

“As people faced the scarcity during the lockdown, the cases of domestic violence also erupted alarmingly,” she shed light on the cause of the increment in the cases of violence, “When they do not have enough resources for livelihood minor disputes also resort to violence.”

The period saw relatively fewer cases of the claim of parental property, physical assaults, and disputes related to land than the cases of domestic violence.

Nirmal Dahal, the Deputy Mayor and Coordinator of the Judicial Committee of Chula Chuli Rural Municipality, informed that her committee received only two cases of domestic violence during the lockdown period.

However, the rural municipality has registered only 15 cases in this fiscal year.

“As there was a restriction on movement of the people and there were means of transportation, we saw fewer cases registered during the lockdown,” she said, “We get more than four dozen cases during other time.”

Chula Chuli Rural Municipality has not made many changes in the budget allocated for its Judicial Committee. The local level had allocated Rs 1 million last year and it’s the same this time, too.

As a substantial number of people from Mai Municipality are migrant workers, most of the cases are related to the same issue. Out of 65 cases registered at the municipality this year, only 15 are related to the lack of understanding between the couple.

According to Bishnu Maya Rimal, the Coordinator of the Judicial Committee, there are cases concerning misunderstandings on financial transactions between husband and wife after the husband (migrant worker) returns home.

“The misunderstanding between the husband and wife has impacted the children adversely,” Rimal commented, “During the lockdown period alone, six such cases were sent to the court as they could not be settled here.”

The municipality has allocated Rs. 1.5 million for the Judicial Committee this year.

Article 217 of the Constitution of Nepal and the Local Governance (Operation) Act 2017 has given two judicial rights to the Judicial Committee established at the local level.

Clause 47 (1) has granted the committee the right to settle the disputes. Likewise, 47(2) has given the right to mediate disputes.

Judicial Committees have settled a significant number of disputes through reconciliation. Only a few of them have reached the district court.

Sushila Nembang, the Deputy Mayor of Ilam Municipality, says the Judicial Committee has given top priority for reconciliation and makes a verdict only if attempts for reconciliation fail.

She informed that the committee has given a verdict on two cases registered for dispute settlement to date.

“The case goes to the bench to decide as per its jurisprudence only when the reconciliation efforts fail,” Nembang narrated the procedure, “In most of the cases, reconciling efforts have been quite successful. Only a few have gone for review.”

While settling the disputes or working for reconciliation, the Judicial Committees abide by the legal provisions made in Clause 47 and 48 of the Local Governance (Operation) Act 2017.

Pabitra Rai, Deputy Mayor and Coordinator of Judicial Committee of Deu Mai Municipality claims that arbitration, reconciliation, or settlement of the disputes are done as per the established procedure set up by the Judicial Committees.

“More than 90% of the cases registered in the Judicial Committee are settled through reconciliation, only a few have to be decided by the committee,” she shared her experience as the coordinator of Ilam Municipality’s JC. “We have hardly given any verdict.”

Deputy Mayor of Suryodaya Municipality also said that her committee also has given priority to reconciliation.

“The cases settled through reconciliation go for immediate enforcement, both parties feel the win as the decision is made only after convincing both parties.”

The procedure prepared by the Judicial Committee has set three months deadline for the settlement or reconciling of the cases registered there.

Provided the attempts to settle the case through reconciliation fail, the committee gives its verdict on the case. Then, the party that does not agree with the committee’s decision goes for the review.

Sharing her experience about the deadline for the settlement of the case, Chandra Kala Rai, the Deputy Mayor and Coordinator of Judicial Committee of Rong Rural Municipality says generally the cases are settled earlier than the deadline.

She added that in her municipality she has successfully settled all the cases in the understanding of both parties, and making both parties satisfied.

Another challenge the committee is facing is the insincerity of the parties towards its call. Often the opponents of the case do not show themselves in front of the committee on time.

“Our committee has received very few cases as the rural areas have relatively fewer cases to file. We have settled them through reconciliation,” Deputy Mayor Rai shared her experience as the coordinator of the JC.

Beneficiaries say that the local JC has saved their time and money. They feel relieved when they need not go to the court or police and can share their problems with their representatives.

Sabitra Bhattarai, the Deputy Mayor of Jog Mai Rural Municipality also claims that the beneficiaries who had to travel up to the district headquarters spending thousands of rupees feel relief that they can get justice at their ward or municipality.

In the early days of the formation of JC, the committee was without work for nearly a half year. Then, it took time to come into operation because the jurisdiction and the procedure of such a committee were not much specified.

Despite its operation in the present form, the committee still feels the shortage of manpower and insufficiency of physical infrastructure.

Deputy Mayor Bhattarai thinks it challenging to performing the duty as ‘judge’ at the local level.

“Ensuring justice and giving verdict can sometimes defame us, it stakes our popularity; yet we should dare to represent justice,” she said.

Deputy Mayor Rai also finds it challenging to execute their role as the bearer of justice.

She feels it difficult for a politician as sometimes their decision can hurt the feelings of the voters, yet, she feels proud to perform the role as every time she sits on the chair of the coordinator of the committee she feels she should stand for justice.

Deputy Mayor Nembang also shares her experience as a coordinator of the committee as challenging. She sadly shared that the committee has some difficulties in enforcing the decisions made by it.

Another challenge the committee is facing is the insincerity of the parties towards its call. Often the opponents of the case do not show themselves in front of the committee on time.

As reconciliation through the judicial committee makes both parties feel they won the case, the committees have proved effective.

“Often the opponents of the case do not show themselves before the committee at the designated time, not only this, sometimes the party seeking justice also do not turn up at the committee,” Deu Mai Municipality’s Deputy Mayor Rai shared her bitter experience.

Mangsebung Rural Municipality has seen a relatively larger number of cases every year. Each ward committee here receives around 30 cases in a year.

Sunita Phombo, the Coordinator of Mangsebung’s judicial committee says that the people have registered more cases in the ward rather than doing so in the municipality’s JC.

She visits the wards to support in handling the cases registered there quite often.

“Whenever possible I go to the ward and help the ward chairman and the local arbitrators settle the case,” Phombo said, “We give the responsibilities to the local levels. Yet, our ignorance of the law and legal provision sometimes influences our decisions; so we have to educate ourselves as well.”

The coordinators of the JC say that they have found this year better than in the previous years as the municipalities have increased their budget.

As reconciliation through the judicial committee makes both parties feel they won the case, the committees have proved effective.

Ganesh Prasad Baral, the Chief of District Coordination Committee opines that provided the coordinators of the judicial committee are better equipped with better literacy of legal provision and regular training, their service will be more effective.

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