East Timor’s Community Reconciliation Process as a model for legal pluralism in criminal justice

Padraig McAuliffe

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    In many post-conflict and transitional states in the Developing World, judiciaries are frequently very weak as many legal actors will have fled or are compromised by association with the prior regime. In this vacuum, local law mechanisms exist and thrive, dealing with as much as 80-90 per cent of disputes that arise. The experience in these states is often that cases run downwards from the overstretched formal justice system to the ample capacity of local law. Some of these post-conflict states are subject to complex United Nations peace-building missions which consistently encourage the restoration of the rule of law and a functioning criminal justice system if peace is to be sustainable. At the same time, the UN encourages transitional justice mechanisms like successor trials in the formal and truth and reconciliation missions to advance social healing, but reject the use of traditional or local legal mechanisms due to fears about human rights deprivations therein. This paper looks at the experience of the Community Reconciliation Process in East Timor, a restorative justice mechanism that adopted much of the processes of local justice mechanisms but tailored them to human rights requirements, in its interactions with the successor trial Serious Crimes Process. The relationship between the two offered great potential for serving as an example of the sensible integration of formal and local justice in a country where judicial capacities are low but where local law thrives. Instead, ambivalence on the part of the UN and Timorese Government to local law restricted the potential for so doing and to this day the two systems operate in parallel as case backlogs and violence threaten the rule of law in the nascent State.
    Original languageEnglish
    JournalLaw, Social Justice and Global Development
    Issue number12
    Publication statusPublished - Dec 2008


    • Traditional justice
    • Legal pluralism
    • Truth and reconciliation
    • Transitional justice
    • Hybrid courts


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