The previous two editions of the Security Sector Reform (SSR) Monitor: Timor-Leste have largely focused on policing issues and SSR policy respectively. The justice system should not be overlooked as a fundamental component of the security sector, however, in assessing SSR in Timor-Leste. In particular, the ongoing backlog of prosecution cases has an impact on policing authority on the ground and overall public trust in the rule of law system. With its focus on the justice system in Timor-Leste, this edition of the SSR Monitor will provide a brief background on the institutional development of the justice system to introduce the current context and discuss salient issues and future plans for the national justice system.
Timor-Leste's national justice system was effectively set up in 1999 and, understandably, remains in a developing state with immense obstacles to still be overcome. Improving access to the formal justice system, in particular, will be an important challenge, especially in remote communities that, due to the lack of police and judicial reach, often rely on various informal justice mechanisms.
Although many long-term challenges remain in establishing a credible, independent and effective justice system, signs of progress are recognizable. After several years of acute centralization and dysfunction, the recent approval of a comprehensive strategic planning framework for justice sector development represents a significant step forward for the justice sector. Indeed, a number of important issues are being addressed, with the potential to lead to positive changes for the long-term development of the justice sector.
Other positive signs include an increase in the number of national judicial actors conducting court proceedings, which should help address language issues, and efforts to improve the functioning of the district courts, which will provide better access to justice to those previously excluded from the formal justice system.