Mahao augments children’s access to justice
Promises parity for all regardless of social standing
TEBOHO KHATEBE MOLEFI
MASERU – Law and justice minister, Professor Nqosa mahao, has heightened the importance of adopting a broad understanding of access to a child-friendly justice system, and ensuring its dispensation.
Mahao made these remarks this week in observance of the international ‘Day of the African Child’, marked globally on June 16.
The law and justice minister noted that this year countries of the world observed the international ‘Day of the African Child; under the theme “Access to child-friendly justice system”.
The theme, he said, has been chosen to remind all stakeholders in the delivery of justice for children of our responsibility to that effect, singling out children who have been in contact with the law – these being children who are witnesses in criminal cases, whose parents have divorced as well as those whose parents’ property has been forcefully seized upon their death.
“Another segment is that of children who in conflict with the law. All these subdivisions need a child-friendly justice system, and accessible at all corners of this country,” Professor Mahao said.
“As a ministry, and in partnership with all stakeholders, we reiterate our commitment to deliver justice in a fashion friendly and accessible to children as provided for by the Child Protection and Welfare Act of 2011…which directs us to do that just that.
I appeal to the entire nation to desist from abusive conduct towards children during the ongoing COVID-19 lockdown when our children remain at home per restrictions of the lockdown, and to report incidents of abuse to our chiefs the police and all relevant authorities could such be detected or witnessed,” the minister continued.
The minister further called on efforts against child marriages and all other acts detriment to the growth and development of children, adding “we are all bound to ensure that children get the kind of justice they need and deserve regardless of their standing in society. It is only when we join hands as a society that we can increase value in justice dispensed for the benefit of our children.”
Mahao moves for the delivery of a child-friendly justice system while the Commonwealth ministers of law have agreed on the importance of adopting a broad understanding of access to justice that goes beyond being only an entrée to dispute resolution but to focus more on equality of justice delivery outcomes – and Lesotho does not want to fall behind.
The then Minister of Law, Habofanoe Lehana, represented Lesotho in a meeting of November 4 to 9 in Colombo, Sri Lanka, in which participating states resolved to facilitate, where appropriate, the assessment of legal needs and the barriers to access to justice in individual member countries.
Lehana said, upon return from the gathering, that this position was an acknowledgement of the importance of assessing citizens’ perceptions of the justice system and identifying barriers to its access – a mission he said government will pursue.
Opening the Sri Lanka meeting, Secretary General, Queen’s Counsel Patricia Scotland reminded the converged ministers of the significance of the gathering’s theme ‘Equal access to justice and the rule of law’ for their individual states, recalling that this was at the heart of Commonwealth values – as a body that represented potency in improving access to justice in member countries.
In an earlier pre-conference statement, QC Scotland had highlighted that access to justice for everyone in all communities was an important right and requirement for building fair and peaceful societies. She was quick, however, to point out that “this objective has been achieved in few, if any, nations, and the consequences are damaging for social, economic and political progress and stability.”
She added: “Studies indicate that of the 1.4 billion people who, for whatever reason in the past two years, felt the need for recourse to law, less than half have had their justice needs met.
Barriers such as cost, complexity and corruption cause people either not to seek redress, or to be defeated by the process.”
She said the 53 countries of the Commonwealth remained committed to taking action to right this wrong, with each member country declaring obligation through the Commonwealth Charter to “an independent, effective and competent legal system which is integral to upholding the rule of law, engendering public confidence and dispensing justice.”
The ministers further acknowledged the ongoing work of the Commonwealth secretariat on the issue of the overrepresentation of vulnerable persons in the justice system, recommending that in the next Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in from June 22 to 27, rulers should consider the accessibility of the justice system to this section of society.
This 26th CHOGM and all associated events penciled for Kigali, Rwanda, has since been cancelled as a result of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic to a time to be announced in due course.
This decision was made in accordance with the 2005 Memorandum of Understanding establishing the Commonwealth Secretariat and the CHOGM Technical Manual, a decision welcomed by Rwandan President, Paul Kagame, who said his people will be fully focused on combatting COVID-19 and its socio-economic impact and that “we look forward to welcoming the Commonwealth family to Kigali for CHOGM once the pandemic has been defeated.”
The Commonwealth is a voluntary association made up of 53 independent sovereign states from both advanced economies of the world and developing countries; it is home to 2.4 billion people.
It boasts of shared values and principles as inscribed in the Commonwealth Charter, supported by a network of more than 80 intergovernmental, civic, cultural and professional organisations.