Promoting greater access to justice
TWO MORE FIJIAN LEGAL AID COMMISSION OFFICES IN LEVUKA AND NABOUWALU, PLANS FOR KADAVU, ROTUMA
On behalf of the Fijian Legal Aid Commission, it is indeed my pleasure to be with you all this morning for the signing ceremony and the official launch of the “Fiji Access to Justice” programme.
Access to justice is one of the most important pillars of our democracy enshrined under the Fijian Constitution. And the Legal Aid Commission has been at the forefront in “Promoting Greater Access to Justice for all Fijians” to ensure that the marginalised and most vulnerable members of our Fijian community are provided with legal assistance and legal representation throughout Fiji. Over the last few years, the funding and support by the Fijian Government and in particular the commitment by our Honourable Prime Minister and the Honourable Attorney-General to the provision of free legal aid services to all eligible Fijians, has enabled the Commission to take its services to the very doorsteps of the rural and remote communities and to those Fijians who are the most vulnerable in our society. Prior to 2012, the Commission had only 4 offices in Fiji in Suva, Lautoka, Labasa and Ba. Today, with the assistance and commitment of the Fijian Government to the provision of free legal aid services, we have a total of 16 offices throughout Fiji – in Nausori, Nasinu, Suva, Navua, Sigatoka, Nadi, Lautoka, Ba, Tavua, Rakiraki, Korovou, Labasa, Savusavu, and Tavueni. I am pleased to announce that from this morning, two more offices in Levuka and Nabouwalu are also open. We plan to have the official opening of these offices in the very near future.
In the 2016-2017 Budget year, our plan is to open offices in Kadavu and Rotuma. We are also currently doing undertaking a study to assess other locations where we need to have an office, and at this stage, we are looking at Seaqaqa, Vunidawa and Keiyasi.
In addition to having qualified legal staff in all the offices, the Commission is committed to ensuring that each office also comprises of client information officers and other officers who are trained in adequately attending to all Fijians who require our services. Apart from opening new offices throughout Fiji, the Commission has also expanded the range of services it provides.
In the past few years, our services have expanded beyond assistance in criminal and family law to other civil law matters. Preparing a will or a deed poll, taking out probate, or registering a caveat may be a simple matter for those who can afford the services of a lawyer, but for our clients, having access to such services has been a challenge in the past. Now the Commission provides these services at all its offices for free, including paying for the requisite registration and publication costs. The Commission has spent the past few months developing our new 5 year Strategic Plan to ensure an ‘international best practice approach’ benchmarked against the United Nations Principles and Guidelines on Access to Justice in Criminal Justice Systems which provides that legal aid is a foundational right for access to justice, and should be accessible, sustainable, affordable, credible and accountable. The Fijian Access to Justice programme which the Legal Aid Commission has been actively involved in, has been able to identify key activity areas for the Commission which this programme will focus on. This programme is a first of its kind for Fiji where the Legal Aid Commission stands to benefit. The funding by the EU will further boost our capacity and ability to provide access to justice to the marginalised. Some of the priorities for the Commission in this programme is to ensure a more effective and efficient management of both human and financial resources. These include capacity building of staff through training and development programmes; a modern and well-resourced law library; a hotline or helpline service; a new case management system to better manage client and case files; and more outreach programmes to raise awareness about our services which will be further facilitated through the hotline or helpline service. Ladies and gentlemen, the programme clearly demonstrates the Commission’s determination to further improve and expand its services and we will continue to work with our key stakeholders to promote and strengthen partnerships and we are committed to continually look at ways of improving service delivery and promoting greater access to justice for all Fijians. Vinaka
‘Funding and support by Government to the provision of free legal aid services to all eligible Fijians, has enabled the Commission to take its services to rural and remote communities.’