Access to justice ensuring that no one is left behind
The European Union must be commended for funding the Government’s Access to Justice Programme. EU Ambassador to Fiji and the Pacific, Andrew Jacobs, says the programme will help ensure that Fijians are aware of their rights and can action them through the relevant state mechanisms. Attorney-General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum says the programme will significantly boost Government’s continuing effort to provide adequate access to justice for as many people as possible. He adds Fijians now enjoy more access to justice than at any other time in our history. There was a time when there was a perception that access to justice was only available for the rich and famous or the elite. This perception was based on the lack of knowledge among ordinary people of the role and functions of these institutions in relation to their basic human rights and rights to access justice. Simply, not enough was done to inform and educate them of these rights and help them to exercise these rights. Mr Sayed-Khaiyum referred to this when he spoke at the signing of a financing agreement for the new programme with the EU. The programme is designed to enhance the justice system here and provide more access for underprivileged and vulnerable groups. It is implemented by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the five-year programme will empower more Fijians than ever by providing them with legal services through the key justice institutions.
This is part of Government’s continuing efforts to develop and expand the institutions so that every Fijian can access them. The Chief Justice, Anthony Gates, says a sense of modesty reminds us that there is much to be done to improve the justice system. So far Government has supported the construction of courtrooms, upgrading and extensions of existing premises, furniture, machinery and recruitment of more judicial officers for the work, creation of a crèche and a vulnerable witness room at Government Buildings in Suva. Two other provisions, highlighted by Mr Gates, are the building of a new Remand Centre at Suva and the development of the Legal Aid Commission. These developments will help in the prompt hearing of cases and reduction of the backlog. Justice delayed is justice denied. This will ensure that people do not have to wait for too long for their cases to be heard. The new Remand Centre, Mr Gates says, will eliminate gross breaches of human rights which the previous remand centre daily inflicted on its remand inmates. This is welcome news and a major change from some unpalatable stories we have heard about past experiences. Last but not least is the Legal Aid Commission which provides free legal assistance to people who cannot afford private legal counsel.
The Legal Aid services now available in offices throughout the country are providing an essential service to people, who otherwise, would be unable to access it because it is free and near. Previously, they had to travel to limited major centres like Suva, to access it.
Access to justice is one thing, effective access to justice is another thing. That’s what Government has been working hard to achieve. Initiatives already undertaken are aimed at achieving this objective. It means helping people access justice. It also means being treated fairly according to the law and if you are not being treated fairly being able to get appropriate redress. It does not only mean access to lawyers and courts but access to other justice institutions like the Fijian Human Rights Commission. It means public authorities behaving properly according to law and everyone having some basic understanding of their rights. It means simplifying the law so that ordinary people can understand it.
It is about protecting ordinary and vulnerable people and solving their problems.
It’s ensuring that no one is left behind.