Bridging the State-Society Gap: The Community Justice Liaison Unit of Papua New Guinea

Tom Seta

The Community Justice Liaison Unit was established under Papua New Guinea’s law and justice sector program, with the support of the Australian government, to enhance the capacity of PNG’s civil society and facilitate its involvement in policy development and delivery of services in the justice sector. The case study highlights those efforts in a context characterized by broad-based ownership of sector reforms and shared interests among civil society and government actors. In addition, it underscores the role external actors can play in supporting traditional institutions—such as PNG approaches to mediation and restorative justice—while encouraging links between the formal and informal aspects of the justice system.

The rationale behind the second pillar of Papua New Guinea’s (PNG) national policy is that law and justice agencies should operate as integral parts of an overall system of justice. There are high levels of operational interdependence between the different components. Weaknesses in one agency will almost invariably affect the operation of others and, by extension, the working of the system as a whole. For example, if there are lengthy delays in court hearings, correctional institutions are likely to bear the burden of increased numbers of detainees awaiting trial or the police may lose track of alleged offenders released on bail. Such a situation raises obvious human rights issues. This interdependence also extends to the provision of law and justice facilities and support services.

Coordination is needed at all levels of government if performance is to improve. The government has made the National Coordination Mechanism (NCM), supported by a secretariat, responsible for ensuring that this coordination happens and results in improved performance within agencies and across the sector.

Through the Community Justice Liaison Unit (CJLU) and the broader law and justice sector-wide approach (SWAp), efforts have been made to ensure that PNG communities assume a more active role in sector concerns. The community is viewed as the ultimate client of justice services and a genuine partner in the legal and judicial processes. The state, of course, retains its important role of safeguarding the interests of social and distributive justice through the administration of the law.

In essence, CJLU aims to create opportunities for nongovernment organizations, civil society organizations (CSOs), and the wider civil society to collectively reflect, analyze, and learn about development and governance issues in the law and justice sector. CJLU is intended to be proactive. Capacity development activities funded through it have included workshops, meetings, and exchanges. Expertise has been and will continue to be drawn from the Law and Justice Program (LJSP), CSOs, and national and international experts. In the future, it could also provide forums for CSOs and government to come together on common law and justice issues. Overall, activities should challenge thinking and build common understanding of issues surrounding the strengthening of civil society in PNG.

One role for the CJLU has been to strengthen the ability of these organizations to understand and address the conditions that promote or hamper development in crime prevention. Contributing to knowledge of what works and what does not work in regard to capacity development in this sector is an essential part of the CJLU response; mechanisms are in place to collect and share information through its monitoring and evaluation processes.

While each level of government has an important ongoing role, government alone cannot tackle all the problems. It is not just a question of lack of resources. History tells us that lasting peace is rarely built from above. Communities must also accept responsibility and play their part. A major objective of community policing, for example, should be to empower communities to police themselves. Police and local administrations can  help facilitate this process, but ultimately it is about shifting responsibility and accountability back to the community.

Almost 25 years ago, the Clifford Report  made a convincing case for promoting the role of non-state mechanisms in maintaining order and redressing conflict. It saw the main role of the state as facilitating and supporting the workings of these informal mechanisms: the state is not to go first but to go last, reducing to a minimum its direct role in law and order. The state’s resources are to be used where informal resources are inadequate and in areas where the formal system is best suited to help. CJLU has helped address this issue in the PNG context and has begun to restore a balance that best reflects Papua New Guinean ways and needs.

Year of publication: 
ADB Capacity Development in the Pacific
Themes and sectors: 
Justice and security
Case story length: 
40 pages

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