Effective interventions

Informal Justice Court 2.0: From Experiment to Model by rebalancing power asymmetries

Public Interest Law Partnership

Dear Reader,

Before you lies the guideline for setting up an Informal Justice Court. The guideline is designed to be a practical step by step manual that justice organizations can use to set up and conduct the informal justice court program. Importantly, it can also be used by inmates who want to run the informal justice court themselves. The Informal Justice Court is a training program for pre-trial detention inmates, aimed at improving and accelerating inmates’ judiciary process through mock trials. In the informal court that is established inside the prison, the inmates will act out their own cases, assisted by pro bono lawyers and legal practitioners (coaches). By taking on the different roles present in a formal court, such as judge, prosecutor, defendant, inmates gain legal knowledge, learn the skills to defend their case in court and finding alternative, innovative legal outcomes that will be incorporated in the legal strategies for their real court case. The cases of the participating inmates will go to court where the inmate will have their formal trial, assisted by their pro bono lawyers.

Every year, worldwide an estimated 15 million people are incarcerated in prisons for months or even years without seeing a judge, receiving legal counsel or establishing guilt. This situation has severe consequences for the inmates, their families, the prison system (overcrowding) and societies at large. To reduce this grave justice problem, not only policy changes and government investments are needed, but also innovative and practical programs that can be carried out in prisons and correctional centres. 1 The Informal Justice Court is such a program. After a preparation and research phase of 4 years, the informal justice court has run successfully in two correctional centres, Ikoyi Correctional Centre and Kirikiri Female Correctional Centre, in Lagos (Nigeria) between October 2020 and October 2022. In these prisons up to 90 percent of inmates are awaiting trial and remain in limbo about their fate for months or years, mostly without (decent) legal assistance. More than 800 awaiting trial inmates participated in these informal justice court session, hundreds of those inmates were assigned pro bono lawyers to their legal criminal case.

Evaluation among participating inmates, lawyers, prison officials and NGOs working in prisons, showed that the informal justice court was successful and demonstrated that the need for the program is very high. We drafted a scalability analysis that revealed that scaling is feasible for prisons in Nigeria and other jurisdictions. The report before you consists of two parts, which can be read independently. The first part describes the Informal Justice Court project and its background in more detail. It briefly sketches the pretrial detention problem and describes the three informal justice court pilot programs. It then outlines the research activities that form the basis for the second part of the report, the Guideline itself. The second part is the step-by- by step guideline to set up an Informal justice court in a prison. This manual outlines the four stages of the program: preparation, selection of Inmates, the training program, and the informal justice court. It is designed to be a practical guide that will help the organizers, the coaches and practitioners that will run an informal justice court. Importantly, it provides a visual guide (drawing) designed for inmates who want to run the informal justice court themselves.

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