Colombia's Houses of Justice
The services include:
Office of Psychology
Encounter processes such as mediation and conciliation are the major tool used in resolving conflicts. Designed to lessen the strain on court systems, the Houses of Justice also contribute to the creation of more peaceful communities by helping people resolve conflicts through dialogue instead of violence.
Colombia now has developed a network of over 32 Casas de Justicia. Their cases include domestic violence, community conflicts, and minor crimes. Over 60% of the users are women. In 2002, 300,000 cases were brought to the Casas de Justicia. Of these, only 25 percent were sent on to the court system. The rest were resolved through face-to-face meetings between the parties in conflict.
The use of alternatives to court proceedings has several benefits. The needs of victims are met quickly. Offenders are able to repair the damage they have caused while avoiding a prison sentence and its many negative impacts. The use of dialogue to resolve problems empowers people to take responsibility for their own actions, enables them to listen to and recognize the value of others, and provides hope for the future.
Other Latin American countries are developing their own Casas de Justicia. USAID has funded establishment of three in Honduras. These Centres use mediation to allow the community to address its own problems. An evaluation of the programme demonstrated a high level of voluntary participation and fulfillment of obligations. In 2000, the Costa Rican government sought aid from the InterAmerican Development Bank to create a network of Casas de Justicia for the alternative resolution of conflicts.
While this model is being implemented in developing nations to provide access to justice, a similar institution developed in France for many of the same reasons. In a 2000 article, Adam Crawford described the use of victim-offender mediation and the development of the Maison de Justice et du Droit in France. The Maison has three aims:
Access to justice through free legal counseling and victim support services
Use of mediation to resolve disputes and the promotion of alternatives to prosecution
Creation of crime prevention partnerships in problem areas.
Like the Casas de Justicia, the French Maison also bring together an interdisciplinary group of services including probation, social services, juvenile justice workers, legal assistance, victim support services, and prosecutors. The Maison are located in poor and underserved communities.
While Houses of Justice are seen as a way to increase citizens' access to justice, they demonstrate the value of restorative encounter processes. The continued use of these processes has the potential to impact community life by changing the ways in which the members respond to conflict.
Crawford, Adam. 2000. “Justice de Proximité- The Growth of Houses of Justice and Victim Offender Mediation in France: A Very Unfrench Legal Response?” Social and Legal Studies. 9(1): 29-53.
Daza, Ana. 1999. Informe Documentación de la Alianza Casa de Justicia da Aguablancas. Versión resumida.