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Justice, Tibet style

By Tang Yue and Wang Huazhong | China Daily | Updated: 2013-06-27 14:44

Mobile courts

Sometimes, it's not just the cost that prevents people from consulting a lawyer, often they are daunted by distance.

Fewer than 3 million people live in Tibet's 1.2 million square kilometers of area. Settlements are few and far between, meaning that for many people the nearest judicial center may be hundreds of kilometers away.

The problem was resolved by the use of "mobile courts" that traveled across the vast plateau dispensing justice.

In the early years, the court officials traveled on horseback, but in 2009, cars were introduced for 73 lower-level courts to speed up and simplify the process.

"We help them to access the most convenient judicial services in the shortest period of time and at the lowest cost," said Phurbu Droma, who has worked as a judge at the mobile court of Doilungdeqen county in Lhasa for four years.

On a sunny day in April, the 29-year-old drove for two hours to Nanba village to erect a tent at the foot of the snowcapped mountains.

She and her colleagues were there to try a case in which an employer was accused of delaying payment of a worker's salary for half a year.

Tondub Tsering, the plaintiff, said that when village government officials tried, but failed, to persuade his employer to pay up, he decided to call the mobile court.

"The judges came and opened the trial. The verdict of the court is highly prestigious and must be adhered to."

According to a work report compiled by the autonomous region's high people's court, the mobile courts have traveled 3.62 million km and tried 17,800 cases in the four years since they were introduced.

"This is not like working in a solemn courtroom where the judges sit behind high desks. Here we can communicate with the locals like friends and hear what they think more closely," said Phurbu Droma.

The mobile courts have also helped to raise locals' awareness of the law, even when a trial is not required. Locals can call on 46 liaison officers in 34 villages in Doilungdeqen county when they need to consult them or file a lawsuit.

Gesang Drolkar, 48, a local official, said people used to turn to seniors and the Living Buddha to resolve conflicts in the past.

But the seniors' judgments were sometimes biased and favored one side, especially if the cases involved their relatives or friends. "The practice was not conducted according to the law and was often unfair."

As a result, local traditions have changed. For example, it has long been the practice that if a couple divorced the father would be awarded custody of the male children, while the mother got the girls. That practice has now been phased out.

However, Phurbu Droma said the region faces a shortage of qualified judges, but the number of cases is rising. Moreover, because the mobile courts reduce and remit most of the costs of litigation, the courts face economic difficulties.

"Traveling on the plateau is not easy. We came here so that the villagers would not have to take the trouble of traveling repeatedly to the county seat where the court is based," she said.

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