Haiti’s lack of judicial reform threatens democracy – think tank

BOGOTA (TrustLaw) - Haiti’s dysfunctional justice system and lack of judicial reform are undermining democracy and security in the Caribbean nation, International Crisis Group (ICG) has said.

Haiti is still reeling from last year's massive quake, in which the rebuilding of toppled court houses has barely begun amid slow reconstruction efforts.

“A dysfunctional justice system continues to pose significant obstacles to the democratic process in a post-earthquake Haiti where security and stability remain fragile,’ the ICG, a Brussels-based think tank said in a report released this week.

“While some steps have begun with regard to the police, institutional reform in the justice sector has lagged, allowing further impunity and persistent criminal threats to citizen safety,” said Bernice Robertson, ICG’s senior Haiti analyst.

The report highlights the problem of overcrowded prisons, a backlog of cases, delayed trials and too many detentions without trial.

“At present, serious criminals often go free, while petty offenders languish in prison,” the ICG report said.


Haiti’s justice system is hobbled by a lack of trained judicial officials and their low salaries make them vulnerable to bribery and corruption.

“The lack of training and skills of lawyers and judges has been one of the most persistent problems,” the report states.

Due to poor pay many judges and prosecutors hold other jobs and are often late or do not show up at all to court, adding to the backlog of cases and inefficiency in Haiti’s justice system, the report says.

Haitian pop star turned president Michel Martelly, who took office five months ago, has promised to modernise Haiti’s archaic 174-year-old criminal code, improve public confidence in the country’s justice system and push through reforms to improve access to legal services.

In a country where 70 percent live in poverty, few Haitians can afford a lawyer.

But Martelly has yet to appoint several key judges and fill the remaining seats on the Supreme Court, which means Haiti’s top courts are not fully operational, the report says.


The report criticises the myriad of aid agencies operating in Haiti for failing to work with the Haitian authorities and to coordinate their efforts on judicial reform.

The United States and Canada have given around $26 million in aid to Haiti to improve prison conditions and its justice and criminal system.

But progress is slow as donors work in an uncoordinated way. Projects are often carried out in isolation and not in line with government initiatives.

“Donors must not work in an ad hoc, uncoordinated way …,” ICG said in the report.

“Donors need to end a history of competing and poorly coordinated projects and direct support to a single, integrated reform effort,” it added.


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