Beverleigh Kanas, Chief Nipiko, Edwina Kotoisuva
This paper describes an initiative led by the author, a Senior Magistrate in Vanuatu, to work with chiefs to improve justice outcomes within communities on the island of Tanna. Vanuatu is a deeply plural society in which many of the justice needs of the population are met by the customary justice system (“kastom”). This paper describes the background to the initiative, its initial reception by the communities involved and the methods used. It also describes some of the main challenges and initial findings from the first stage of implementation. These findings includes the important realisation that chiefs cannot work in isolation. The role they play in the communities is important to maintain peace but they also must make decisions that comply with the law in order for trust and respect to be restored, and this is a particular challenge in regard to cases involving women and girls. This points to the need for some sort of jurisdiction that will guide them to make decisions that accommodate and consider the needs of women and children and allow them to be better protected. The informal system of kastom governance can be better utilized by victims in the communities to access justice if the chiefs are equipped with the right knowledge.