Fiji joins global talks to improve Access to Justice through strengthening legal aid services

Jun 29, 2017

(From left) Prof. Alan Patterson, Strathclyde University, Scotland, Convener of the International Legal Aid Group Conference; Mr Shahin Rafique Ali, Acting Director, Legal Aid Commission, Fiji; Prof. David McQuoid-Mason, University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa; and Mr Justice Dunston Mhlambi, Judge President of the Gauteng Division of the High Court of South Africa, Chairperson of the Board of Legal Aid South Africa. (Photo: ILAG)

“Fiji is one of the first developing countries in the world to take active steps to introduce aspects of the of the United Nations Principles and Guidelines on Legal Aid in Criminal Justice Processes into its legal aid processes”.

The comment was made by Professor David McQuoid-Mason, the President of the Commonwealth Legal Education Association at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa, who was one of the legal experts who assisted with the drafting of the Principles and Guidelines. 

Legal aid and legal service policy makers and scholars from over 30 jurisdictions recently met to discuss various topics to improve access to justice at the International Legal Aid Group Conference in Johannesburg, South Africa. Fiji’s Legal Aid Commission was part of the three day meet with the objective to harness knowledge from delegates and showcase information on the Legal Aid Commission in Fiji.

Discussions included ‘Making Access to Justice in Sustainable Development Goal 16.3 a Reality’, ‘Exploring Gaps in Provision for Vulnerable People’ and ‘Making Technology Work’.

Legal Aid Commission Acting Director and participant at the conference, Shahin Rafique Ali said, “Fiji’s participation in this esteemed conference was highly worthwhile and provided up-to-date information that can be considered and adapted for the Fijian context so as to deliver even greater access to justice for all Fijians, with a focus on the most vulnerable people in Fiji.” 

Prof David McQuoid-Mason, who was one of the presenters in the discussions, said, “This conference represents the cutting edge of how legal assistance could be provided to the most vulnerable. Of particular relevance to Fiji was the discussion under the topic of ‘Ensuring Equal Access to Justice for All: Effective Legal Aid in Criminal Cases’.   

Prof McQuoid-Mason had the Acting Director of the Legal Aid Commission share to delegates Fiji's pilot initiative on the First Hour Procedure and Video Recorded Interviews for those detained and arrested in respect to a criminal offence, as this is the first of its kind in the developing world. He pointed out that the Fiji Legal Aid Commission is probably the best per capita funded legal aid scheme in the developing world.

United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Programme Manager for Access to Justice, Rule of Law and Human Rights, Christine Fowler said, “The Fiji Access to Justice Project supported the Legal Aid Commission’s participation in this conference as this will further strengthen delivery of services by the Commission to reach the most vulnerable groups in Fiji.”

The conference was held from the 14th to the 16th of June 2017.

The Fiji Access to Justice Project supports access to justice for impoverished and vulnerable groups through empowering people to access legal rights and services through the relevant key justice institutions, in conjunction with strengthening the key justice institutions to undertake improved service delivery.  The Fiji Access to Justice Project is funded by the European Union (EU) and implemented by UNDP.

The Fiji Government has endorsed the Sustainable Development Goals which highlights the importance of access to justice as an enabler for development and an outcome of development in its own right. At Goal 16, there is commitment to promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels. At Goal 5, there is commitment to achieve gender equality and empowerment of all women and girls. The Fiji Access to Justice Project supports the achievement of these goals.

Contact Information

Tomoko Kashiwazaki, Advocacy and Outreach Officer, email: tomoko.kashiwazaki@undp.org

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