Access To Justice As A Human Right: The Case of Cameroon
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This research seeks to examine access to justice as a human right, the case study of Cameroon.
By so doing, the emphasis has been laid on the case of Cameroon by tracing the origin of the quest for justice by Cameroonians, most especially the southern Cameroonians.
Access to justice is a big problem that has existed for several years.
In a bid to solve this problem, states, as well as civil societies, international organizations and Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), have made considerable effort to ensure that people enjoy this right.
Despite these numerous efforts, access to justice is still a major problem in our societies today because of corruption, low educational awareness of the masses, poverty, non-respect of the rule of law and mediocre government. It is true that the obstacles people face in accessing justice are diverse.
That is why efforts must be comprehensive and holistic, implemented within a long term sustainable policy framework, involving collaborations at all levels. Reforms must be made in technical fields such as at the financial and educational level, the reduction of formalities as far as following a case in court is concerned and the improvement of the number and the access to our courts.
The objective of this research is to analyze the extent to which aggrieved persons access justice in Cameroon. This research shall be examining possible measures aimed at improving access to justice at the international level and in Cameroon in particular.
For our forefathers, no right was as fundamental as the capability to access the legal system, i.e., to be the beneficiary of a rule of law that protects one’s rights against the most powerful. Inherent from the beginning was the idea that a right requires the capability of securing a remedy. That remedy must necessarily be found in a justice system.
Thus, rights cannot exist and have meaning if the system cannot be accessed, and if it fails to provide a fair and just hearing, and result. All of “rights” law /assumes the existence of government, of justice, and of access to it. The core idea of “access to justice” has been referred to by the terms “access to courts” and/or “the right to a remedy”, and/or “a basic common law right”.
Although there are many antecedents, the access to justice movement emerged in a major organized way in most western countries during the immediate Post World War era. The authors M. Cappelletti and B. Garth described the evolution of access to justice in terms of three “waves” of change. The “first wave” was the emergence of legal aid.
This wave focused on providing access to legal representation in the courts for the economically disadvantaged. Subsequent waves of change progressed from the emphasis on assuring the right to legal representation in the first wave, to an emphasis on the group and collective rights in the “second wave”.
In the “third wave” of the access to justice movement, one sees the development of a range of alternatives to litigation in court to resolve disputes and justice problems, as well as reforms that simplify the justice system and thus, facilitate greater accessibility. M. Cappelletti and B. Garth refer to the third wave as the emergence of a fully developed access to justice approach.
Access to justice is a basic principle of the rules of law. In the absence of access to justice, people are unable to have their voice heard, exercise their rights, challenge discrimination or hold decision-makers accountable. Everybody should have the rights to equal access to justice including members of vulnerable groups. States should take all necessary steps to provide fair, transparent, effective, non-discriminatory and accountable services that promote access to justice for all in order to make the delivery of justice impartial.
Generally speaking, access to justice implies access to social and distributive justice. Social Justice can be defined as the way in which human rights are manifested in the everyday lives of society. Distributive Justice on the other hand is concerned with the fair allocation of resources among diverse members of a community.
It is however important to underscore the point that these perspectives are not necessarily disconnected since the extent to which one can have distributive justice in any system is largely determined by the level and effectiveness of social justice in the country. The consequence of this is that any of one aspect of the concept will necessarily entail a reference to one or more components of the other. This is because, without access to justice, it is impossible to enjoy and ensure the realization of any other right, whether civil, political or economic.
In the declaration of the High-Level Meeting on the rule of law, member states of the United Nations (UN) highlighted the independence of the judicial system, together with its impartiality and integrity, as an essential prerequisite for upholding the rule of law and ensuring that there is no discrimination in the administration of justice, as pointed out by Nlerum S. Okogbule, “Access to Justice and Human Rights Protection in Nigeria: Problems and Prospects 2005
In strengthening access to justice, the UN works with national partners to develop strategic plans and programs for justice reform and service delivery. UN entities support member states in providing justice in areas including monitoring and evaluation, empowering the poor and marginalized to seek response and remedies for injustice, improving legal protection, legal awareness, and legal aid; civil society and parliamentary oversight, addressing challenges in the justice sector such as police brutality, inhumane prison conditions, lengthy pre-trial detention, and impunity for perpetrators of sexual and gender-based violence and other serious conflict-related crimes; and strengthening the linkage between formal and informal structures.
Nowadays, it is commonplace to talk about the importance of Human Rights within the framework of democratic governance, and a more decentralized and balanced development determined to protect the people against different hazards. In short, the purpose is to consolidate the rule of law with justice being at the centre of this social mechanism.
Of course, the President of the Republic of Cameroon reiterated this concern when, on the occasion of celebrations to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the National School of Administration and Magistracy (ENAM), he reminded Judicial and Legal Officers that:
“Justice – young legal trainees must be fully aware – is the highest social regulator and the kingpin of democracy in a state governed by the rule of law. Rendering justice is a lofty task, but also a very heavy responsibility. In this case, one must be guided by ethics and deontology. Accordingly, the Republic which empowers Judicial and Legal Officers to ensure compliance with the law cannot tolerate any flaws.” This can be seen at Minjustice “Rapport MinJustice_Ang_-2009-1.pdf” October 2010 at page 8.
The context and strength of the reminder are quite explanatory. It is now left for Judicial and Legal Officers whom Antoine Garapon describes as custodians of the promises laid down at the heart of Republican laws to meditate on and draw lessons from the reminder, especially in terms of restoring the confidence of the people. This is one of the conditions for the effective enjoyment by our fellow citizens of their most essential human right, as stipulated in Antoine Garapon in his book, “Gardien des Promesses”
Justice is a continuum that begins from the pronouncement and substance of the law to the different stages and forms of its enforcement. There are operational problems that are associated with these phenomena.
Although the Cameroonian legal system has put in place provisions for access to justice, the technical nature of the law and its procedure combined with lack of quality legal assistance, illiteracy and socio-economic subordination contribute to compound a major problem of accessing justice as most people still do not take their cases to court simply because they feel that it is easier to do nothing, an occurrence that requires investigation.
Again, individual cases are based on specific arrangements rather than on general principles of law and also because many other barriers may effectively render its exercise difficult like for example the excessive delays and corruption.
Another problem of access to justice is the fact that in cases of legal problems, for example, a person may choose to not have recourse to the justice system at all, and instead seek to use alternative forms of problem resolution based on less formal and more personal initiatives which may not always end up as desired.
- What are the existing laws governing access to justice in Cameroon?
- How can the aggrieved party access justice at the local and international level?
- What are the challenges parties face in accessing justice in Cameroon?
- What are the policy recommendations that can be made to improve on the right to access justice?
The objectives of this research are in two folds. That is, the general and the specific objectives as elaborated chronologically below
The goal of this research is to examine access to justice as a human right in Cameroon.
- To examine the existing laws governing access to justice in Cameroon
- To investigate how aggrieved parties can access justice at the local and international level.
- To analyze the challenges parties face in accessing justice in Cameroon.
- To propose policy recommendations that can be made to improve on the right to access justice.