The Puntland Justice System and Miscarriage of Justice

Garowe ( PP Features ) — In April 2019 Hodan Shanlayste was found dead in her house in Garowe. Detectives arrested and charged several men with the murder of Hodan.  Sixteen months after the case went to court, judges have yet to decide the case. Reasons for the slow progress of the case abound. Defendants argued that they had broken into the house but had not killed Hodan.

While this sounds like a legally plausible argument, it shines a spotlight on Puntland criminal justice system. Relatives of the Hodan Shanlayste have criticised “Puntland Ministry of Women, the Ministy of Justice and  human rights organisations for not giving the case due consideration”. They said that the Puntland Government had postponed the case several times “because defendants have no lawyers.“

In a 2003 report, Towards Good Governance in Puntland:  (A participatory Study on Governance), Puntland Development and Research Center highlighted the incompatibility of the clan-based political identity and the running of  institutions for a society that has embraced modernity: “The gravest blunder committed constituted the fact that the managers of state organs— MPs, Ministerial and Judicial posts and recruitment of police officers and civil servants— had been selected on clan quota instead of on formal qualifications, merit and competence. This system impacted dramatically in the functioning of political, legislative and executive organs and the democratic way of governance” argued Puntland Development and Research Center.

Miscarriage of justice: Defendants have no lawyers.

Lawyers assigned to defend defendants fear they will face hostility from the family of Hodan Shanlayste. A lawyer who declined to represent defendants but asks to be quoted anonymously tells Puntland Post that “early mismanagement of the case has dealt a blow to the reliability of the justice system in Puntland”.  “Why did the Puntland criminal justice system refuse to utilise DNA test similar to the one that had a crucial impact on investigations into murder of Asha Ilyas?” asks the lawyer. Asha was killed in February 2019, two months before the defendants broke into the house of Hodan Shanlayste.

The justice system in Puntland  works alongside the customary law. In a politically and economically unequal society the powerful decides how prosecutors handle the cases. A poor family can be persuaded to accept blood money or  compensation to settle a case out of court.  The Attorney General of Puntland State does not inquire into cases that are settled out of court. Priority is given to the two parties whose agreement can override detectives’ work before or after the case gets submitted to the court for trial.  The use of DNA for the case of the Asha Ilyas removed the possibility for traditional adjudication through the customary law. 

The Somali patriarchy undermines the notions of justice upon which a modern society depends. Women bear the brunt of the miscarriage of justice that characterises Puntland criminal justice system. “Puntland Justice system is long overdue for reform” said the lawyer.

 © Puntland Post, 2020