Users awaiting trial outside the “Bus of Justice”
Thanks to two innovative courts on wheels some Hondurans are getting a concrete taste of justice, even if higher levels of their judiciary subverted it by facilitating and legitimizing last year’s coup. In January, the Mobile Peace Courts working in the bankrupt burbs of Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula celebrated their second anniversary resolving the legal conflicts of more than 5,000 citizens without the resources to seek justice.
The “Buses of Justice,” as they are known by many residents, opened Jan. 18, 2008 to try civil and criminal cases dealing with family, labor and domestic violence charges. The courts also offer free mediation services whereby many family disputes – like child support or access to minors- are resolved before going to trial. If mediation does not resolve the issues then involved parties head to the court at the other end of the bus. “Mediation gives people voluntary solutions that empower them to resolve conflicts peacefully,” said San Pedro Sula Mobile Peace Court Judge Edgar Leonardy Duarte.
For many Hondurans access to legal aid requires non-existent free time and an expensive trip into the city. The “Buses of Justice” are a pilot program sponsored by the World Bank aimed at giving marginalized women, indigenous and poor people the tools to demand justice. The majority of claimants are women seeking child custody, lost wages or work benefits as well as safety from domestic violence. The courts’ professionals use an accelerated process in order to satisfy the rapidly expanding caseload and ensure some poor Hondurans enjoy equal access to justice.
Judge Edgar Leonardy Duarte holds court
“The project is successful because everyday it travels the neighborhoods and communities helping people obtain access to justice that is quick, free and transparent, all without even having to hire a lawyer,” offered Judge Duarte. In April 2008 the World Bank recognized the “Buses of Justice” as its top Latin American project for promoting access to justice. Despite the coup and ensuing political crisis, funding remained intact and the possible expansion of the Mobile Peace Courts project is now under review.
“This project is so good that it should be implemented not only in the Honduran municipalities but in those poor countries that need to build trust in their justice systems,” said Judge Duarte. With the cost of litigation becoming increasingly prohibitive in North America, average citizens there might also want their justice on-the-go.