Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Substantial Justice

Substantial Justice: An Anthropology of Village Courts in Papua New Guinea

Michael Goddard
Copyright Date: 2009
Edition: NED - New edition, 1
Published by: Berghahn Books
Pages: 334
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Substantial Justice
    Book Description:

    Papua New Guinea's village court system was introduced in 1974, partly in an effort to overcome the legal, geographical, and social distance between village societies and the country's formal courts. There are now more than 1100 village courts all over PNG, hearing thousands of cases each week. This anthropological study is grounded in ethnographic research on three different village courts and the communities they serve. It also explores the colonial historical background to the establishment of the village court system, and the local and global processes influencing the efforts of village courts to deal with everyday disputes among grassroots Melanesians.

    eISBN: 978-1-84545-922-2
    Subjects: Anthropology, History, Law

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Preface and Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xvii)
  6. Maps
    (pp. xviii-xx)
  7. Introduction
    (pp. 1-26)

    Like many jurists before him and since, Justice Pratt of the National Court took a dim view of Papua New Guinea’s ‘village courts’. The village court system had been introduced legislatively in 1974 partly to overcome the legal, geographical and social distance between village societies and the country’s formal courts. Informality was an intended feature of village courts, and while they were subject to law their legally untrained magistrates were supposed to follow ‘custom’, and the courts were to be free of legal technicalities, including those manifest in the presence of lawyers. These features in themselves were enough to cause...

  8. 1 Colonial Law: An Extended Prelude to the Village Courts
    (pp. 27-52)

    The growth and spread of the village courts from 1975 to the present day could be interpreted as a success, testimony to their value to local communities throughout PNG, and to the dedication of their poorly remunerated magistrates. Later chapters will elaborate these aspects of their practice. However, they have also been targets of criticism, mostly by legalists, but occasionally by proponents of human rights, and particularly women’s rights. These criticisms are discussed in later chapters in some detail, but the issues raised in them were largely a legacy of the attitudes and practice of successive colonial administrations, with which...

  9. 2 The Administration of Village Courts
    (pp. 53-76)

    As shown in the previous chapter, two general themes constituted the discursive context of the eventual introduction of a system of village courts. One was that the formal justice system of the late colonial period was not accessible to villagers (Curtis and Greenwell 1971; Iramu 1975; Lynch 1965: 32; Oram 1975),¹ the other was a rhetoric that the colonial legal system had been unjustly censorious of custom and customary law and that the latter should be restored and preserved (Chalmers 1978b: 266–67; PNG House of Assembly Debates 1972: 1163–68). Consequently, the Village Courts Act stipulated that the village...

  10. 3 Village Courts on Trial
    (pp. 77-112)

    In this chapter I explore in more depth the legacy of the intention by planners of the village court system that village courts should apply ‘custom’—an intention partially driven by a rhetoric that the colonial legal system had been unjustly censorious of custom and customary law. The planners could not have foreseen the consequences of the Village Courts Act’s ostensibly reasonable stipulation that the village courts should apply custom ‘as determined in accordance with . . . the Native Customs (Recognition) Act of 1963’ (Village Courts Act 1973), and its provisions that village court magistrates, untrained in law, would...

  11. 4 Three Village Courts and Their Social Environments
    (pp. 113-144)

    In the three decades since their inception village courts have spread to most parts of PNG and there are now more than 1,100 in operation. As noted in chapter 3, contemporary anthropological studies of village courts have indicated that each court reflects the sociality of the particular local community it serves, and applies a complex integration of introduced law and local convention in its dispute-management procedures. In this chapter I give some indication of the particularity of village courts in describing three in the National Capital District, and the communities in which they operate. Village courts were quickly extended into...

  12. 5 Village Court Politics
    (pp. 145-168)

    This chapter discusses the politics of being a village court official, using examples from the three courts introduced in chapter 4. As magistrates and other officials are chosen from the particular communities they serve, they are inescapably enmeshed in community politics. Not only do the ‘style’ and decision-making of village courts reflect the sociality of their community, but social dynamics and attitudes can play a large part in determining who becomes a village court official. The legislative intention had been that village court magistrates would be selected by the local community on the criteria of their adjudicatory integrity and good...

  13. 6 Pari Village Court in Action
    (pp. 169-194)

    In this and the two following chapters I present examples of cases heard in Pari, Konedobu and Erima village courts, developing the observation made in chapter 4 that each village court has its own style. Not only does each court reflect the sociality of the community it serves, but the range and type of cases heard differ from court to court. This chapter presents Pari village court in action, dealing with offences and disputes in a Motu-Koita village which is trying to preserve its identity in the face of the modern sociality represented by the growing city nearby. Christian sobriety...

  14. 7 Konedobu Village Court in Action
    (pp. 195-216)

    While the four settlements served by Konedobu village court are not villages, they are nevertheless fairly close-knit communities. Their proximity to each other, as well as longstanding relationships with Motu-Koita landholders living in the nearby Hanuabada village complex, has bound them over time into a community that sees itself as something akin to a cluster of traditional villages. The Motu termhanua, meaning ‘village’, is commonly used by inhabitants to refer to their own settlement. While they are very close to downtown Port Moresby (an area which some urbanites now refer to as the ‘CBD’) and many of them walk...

  15. 8 Erima Village Court in Action
    (pp. 217-240)

    In contrast with the sedate atmosphere of Pari and Konedobu village courts, Erima court hearings were volatile, sometimes to the point of physical violence between disputants. The ethnically mixed nature of the suburbs served by the court, and the competition among unrelated migrants for urban resources ensured friction, suspicion and distrust between groups. While the populations of these outer suburban settlements present a common front to authorities and other outsiders, the ethnic groups which inhabit them recognise only limited social commonality among themselves. Violence is common, exacerbated by alcohol consumption on paydays and weekends. The caseload of Erima court was...

  16. 9 Between Groups and Individuals
    (pp. 241-266)

    A theme running through the previous four chapters is that the ‘style’ of a village court is significantly shaped by the particular community it serves. A corollary of this is the degree to which local sociality is taken into account in hearings and in the decisions of magistrates. In Pari, for instance, the integrity of the village was a major consideration, and a preoccupation with the reintegration of offenders and the maintenance of good interpersonal and inter-iduhurelations, rather than the punishment of individuals, was implicit in the practice of the court. In Konedobu court, individual disputes were contextualised in...

  17. Conclusion: The Local and the Global
    (pp. 267-280)

    This book has been grounded anthropologically in a close study of three village courts, showing the degree to which they reflect the sociality of the communities they serve. I believe the intimate relation between individual courts and their local communities to be a major factor in the success of the village court system overall over the past three decades. When the courts were first introduced, they were intended to be ‘strongly influenced by the customs of the area and by local attitudes and mores’ (Desailly and Iramu 1972: 8), and their magistrates were not intended to be trained in law....

  18. Appendix: The Official Range of Offences Heard by Village Courts
    (pp. 281-284)
  19. References
    (pp. 285-302)
  20. Index
    (pp. 303-312)