Court designs facilitate access content image

Whether justice services are fair depends on multiple factors. One often underappreciated element is the structure of court buildings themselves. Witness waiting rooms, space for vulnerable victims and sufficient offices all affect how court cases are prepared and run.

Coffey is working on a Danida-funded project that is supporting judicial reform in Zimbabwe. As part of this support, the project is building 30 magistrates’ courts across the country. The project team has played a critical role in ensuring that the courts incorporate access to justice features that weren’t present in initial architectural plans.

The updated designs include a room with a one-way mirror for children and vulnerable victims, making it easier for them to participate in court proceedings.

A newly incorporated witness shelter means that witnesses do not have to wait outside in the splitting sunshine or pouring rain, which can discourage witness participation.

The availability of public toilets facilitates the public’s engagement with court proceedings. The initial designs only had toilets for staff, which would require the public to walk through court offices to access restrooms or would mean the public would not have any toilets available to them.

Additional offices provide work spaces for magistrates, prosecutors, police and civil society organisations (CSOs). This last group is of note as CSOs have indicated that they would provide pro-bono legal advice in some of the courts.

Construction of the initial nine courts will be tendered out very shortly, with the other 21 to follow. Other key elements of the Danida project include the introduction of a case flow management system and staff training for the Judicial Service Commission.