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Legal Innovation in Papua New Guinea

  • Start date: 31 August 2012
  • End date: 30 August 2015

This project entails the collection and analysis of ethnographic data on the contemporary practices of Village Courts in Papua New Guinea.  These courts, established at the country's independence in 1975, have had little or no state oversight in their 37-year history, resulting in a profound degree of variation in the way the courts currently operate. 

The research will in particular focus on irregularities in Village Court practice, including the hearing of cases outside of their jurisdiction, the hearing of cases by authorities other than appointed Village Court magistrates, and the participation of so-called 'bush lawyers', self-educated but otherwise unqualified advocates. 

The project is a collaboration between scholars in the anthropology of law in the United Kingdom and Australia, and will also include the participation of Papua New Guinean researchers. All researchers will document the practices of Village Courts in different regions of this highly diverse country, with the aim of counteracting a political rhetoric that the Village Courts are failing with actual evidence of the ways in which ordinary Papua New Guinean people have maintained and developed a system of justice and dispute management that works for them in the absence of state involvement or support.