Strengthening Access to Justice Through Simple SMS

Piloting the use of RapidPro between Village Court officials and the government for critical, real-time data

UNICEF Papua New Guinea
Tribal costumes on display before recording of Commonwealth Games Opening Ceremony ‘as live’ film in Inika village, Agevairu, Central Province.
13 May 2016

Introduced as a blend between the formal judicial system and customary dispute resolution mechanisms, the Village Court is the most visible and accessible justice mechanism in Papua New Guinea. There are over 1,600 Village Courts in Papua New Guinea. They serve as the first port of call for communities to raise disputes, seek justice on a range of grievances, and obtain just and amicable settlements. Over 18,000 Village Court officials across PNG see an estimated 650,000 cases per year.

Village Court clerks brainstorm the use of text messaging to collect data.
UNICEF/Papua New Guinea
Village Court clerks brainstorm the use of text messaging to collect data.

The Village Courts Secretariat under the Department of Justice and Attorney General, based in the capital Port Moresby, manages the collection and analysis of data filed by Village Courts clerks located across the country. But rough terrain, and poor information and transportation systems, means that this data can take months to reach the capital – if it reaches at all.

This information is vital to understand what kind of issues are being raised by communities, the extent to which women and children access village courts services – and more importantly – whether justice is being served.

To improve access to data, the Village Courts Secretariat, together with UNICEF, is piloting the use of RapidPro SMS to collect data captured in Village Courts books and quarterly reports. By texting questions to Village Court officials, the government will be able to access critical data in real-time, enabling faster decision making and ultimately strengthen access to justice and enhance community peace and harmony.

In early April, twenty-seven Village Court clerks and Secretariat officials came together to discuss how best to improve data collection and prioritize indicators for RapidPro. Through the brainstorming process, they also identified existing problems with the current data collection system, including the lack of indicators for children, and opportunities to improve existing practices. Through RapidPro, communities and governments will have greater access to information to improve demand for services, inform planning processes and strengthen accountability – and ultimately improve the lives of men, women and children.