Litigation is a guaranteed and protected right for all people, and every Palestinian has the right to seek redress in the judicial system. Laws may not contain any provisions that provide immunity to any administrative decision or action or against judicial review and judicial error shall result in a remedy by the National Authority. The public perception of the justice system is an integral part that provides the litigants with confidence and ease in achieving justice, and any infringement on this part causes them to lose faith in the justice system and adversely affects their hope of reaching justice and protecting their rights. The main requirements that shape the public perception of the justice system include having an appropriate building for the courts and executive authority departments with the jurisdiction and competence to handle the transactions and claims of the litigants. It also helps to ensure that the state and its institutions follow the principle of the separation of powers and respect the integrity and prestige of the judiciary.
The Beginning of the Crisis
The crisis began when the settlement court was moved out of the regular courts’ building to become under the jurisdiction and responsibility of the Land and Water Settlement Commission, which meant that all settlement courts are under the rule of the Land and Water Settlement Commission that chose the courts’ locations as deemed fit. Accordingly, the building chosen for the Birzeit settlement court has many fundamental shortcomings that negatively affected the court’s performance, reputation, and the litigants’ trust in it. The court is situated in a basement inside the building of the Birzeit ministry of interior that does not meet any of the basic requirements of the court, which has prompted widespread criticism and various complaints from lawyers and litigants alike.
MUSAWA Intervenes to Find a Solution
MUSAWA got involved in this issue in three ways. The first one is by receiving verbal and written complaints such as the one from the lawyer Fadel Najajreh from Ramallah. Second, the monitoring officer at MUSAWA conducted several court visits confirming and reporting its inadequacy of the basic requirements needed to carry out its administrative and judicial work. The third way is through the calls and meetings with the lawyers and litigants who confirmed that the building is inadequate and inaccessible to the elderly and people with disabilities, not to mention its small size, lack of designated rooms for lawyers, and no waiting room for litigants, which forces all people to gather in the courtrooms, even when the court is in session. In addition, it does not meet the health requirements as there are no restrooms for lawyers or visitors, nor does it meet the ventilation, health, and safety standards.
Based on MUSAWA’s work of monitoring and documentation, supported by evidence, it addressed a written memo on 12/09/2022 to the Land and Water Settlement Commission regarding the inadequacy of the settlement court’s building. It detailed the reasons for its inadequacy and called for prompt action to move the court to a new location that is suitable for both the administrative and judicial operations of the court.
The Land and Water Settlement Commission acknowledges the validity of the MUSAWA’s memo
MUSAWA received a written response on 25/09/2022 from the Land and Water Settlement Commission acknowledging the validity of the details stated in MUSAWA’s memo, and pledging to move the court to another location, but did not specify a date.
The New Court Building
The Land and Water Settlement Commission announced on 03/10/2022 the moving of the court to a new building. The monitoring officer at MUSAWA inspected the new location twice, met with lawyers and litigants, and reported that the new building is better and meets the basic requirement of the court. However, it did not take into consideration the accessibility of the building for the elderly and people with disabilities. The court is two floors over street level, and the first floor is only reached through a staircase that is not accessible to people with disabilities, as is the case with the second floor where the court is situated, and one of the elderly people even said that “the old building is more accessible to him than the new one .” Moreover, the lawyers’ room is unfurnished due to a conflict of jurisdiction over who should provide furniture. The land and Water Settlement Commission considers that it’s the Bar Association’s responsibility to provide the furniture, but the Bar Association did not comment on this, nor did it provide the required furniture, which kept the room empty up to this date 16/10/2022
The need to adapt the building to the needs of the elderly and people with disabilities as mandated by relevant laws, and the Land and Water Settlement Commission should fulfill this requirement as fast as possible. Additionally, the Bar Association should provide furniture to the lawyers’ room to fulfill its professional obligation towards its members and to ensure that their empty room is no longer a reason for overcrowded courtrooms.
This success story is additional proof of the importance of upholding individual and collective constitutional rights, because if there is a will to maintain these rights and take all the legal measures to protect and defend them, then there is a possibility of change. Once again, MUSAWA encourages any citizen, whose rights have been violated or infringed on, to seek the help of MUSAWA by filing a complaint or requesting its intervention to prevent any risk or to protect their rights.