Ac­cess to jus­tice en­sur­ing that no one is left be­hind

Fiji Sun - - Comment -

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.

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