Back row (L-R): Seremaia Waqanabeite (LAC Fiji), David McQuoid-Mason (UNDP Consultant), Ashwin Raj (HRADC Fiji), Shahin Ali (LAC Fiji), Hope Bambiso (LAC South Africa) and Maciu Sakealevu (LAC Fiji); Front row (L-R): Mithleshni Gurdayal (HRADC Fiji), Helen Kumar (LAC Fiji) and Vika Savu (LAC Fiji) were participants from Fiji visiting Legal Aid South Africa during the knowledge-exchange (Photo: HRADC/Mithleshni Gurdayal)

Durban, South Africa – From 12 to 26 August 2017, a delegation of seven (three women and four men) from the Legal Aid Commission (LAC) and the Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Commission (HRADC) of Fiji participated in a knowledge exchange in South Africa. Supported by the European Union-funded Fiji Access to Justice Project being implemented by the UNDP Pacific Office, the delegation was hosted by Legal Aid South Africa and South Africa Human Rights Commission, and supported by UNDP engaged consultant, David McQuoid-Mason, President of the Commonwealth Legal Education Association of the Centre for Socio-Legal Studies at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) in Durban. The objective of this exchange was to accelerate and ultimately scale up the sharing of knowledge, expertise and experience in the legal and human rights sectors between Fiji and South Africa as countries of the global South.

The study tour covered visits and knowledge exchange with the Legal Aid South Africa Head Office, the UKZN Centre for Socio-Legal Studies, the UKZN Law Clinic, the KwaZulu-Natal Regional Legal Aid Office, the Verulam Justice Centre, the Community Law and Rural Development Centre, and the Legal Resources Centre. HRADC participants additionally had knowledge exchanges with the South Africa Human Rights Commission and the Public Protector’s Office. 

Commenting on the South-South learning experience, Acting Director of the LAC, Shahin Rafique Ali stated, “The overall visit to Legal Aid South Africa was very informative and educational. The similarity of their operational context to that of Fiji made understanding their systems and procedures more relatable. Potentially applying certain learning outcomes and systems could result in enhancing the LAC’s service delivery model in Fiji towards more efficiency, greater professionalism and higher quality.”

Some of the key learnings and observations from the South African exchange for the LAC are outlined below, amongst others. Towards operationalization of the Legal Aid Helpline in Fiji, the Call Centre staffed by paralegals under the supervision of qualified legal aid practitioners in South Africa was thought to be a good model; including its ‘Call me back’ facility whereby paralegals can call back clients who cannot get through. The use of innovative information technology programmes and tools to save time for tracking files and monitoring workloads was also deemed valuable. The importance of having a comprehensive Legal Aid Manual was recognized, for providing guidance to staff and stakeholders on operations and procedures of the institution. The benefit of including a list of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) on the LAC website to enable visitors to access important information, including forms, was noted. The effective promotional awareness raising campaigns of Legal Aid South Africa were also commended. 

In relation to institutional learning, the Director of the HRADC, Ashwin Raj said, “The study tour was invaluable, as we learned about how the two institutions – the South African Human Rights Commission and Legal Aid Commission South Africa – served South Africans of diverse cultures and socio-economic disparities to access justice and seek redress for human rights violations. We were briefed on service-delivery, management and operations such as impact litigation, work ethics, monitoring of litigations on a daily basis, information technology systems, their communications strategy, and their approach for sharing resources across institutions.”

Observations and reflections useful for HRADC included the following highlights, amongst others. Chiefly how impact litigation can be used to assist marginalized communities and to develop a human rights jurisprudence for the country, the importance of using interactive teaching methods to provide human rights education, particularly infusing human rights education across the school curriculum from year 1 to year 9, and the need to include human rights education in the country’s Human Rights Action Plan was recognized, together with developing human rights indicators. The importance of marketing human rights was appreciated in relation to specific campaigns launched in South Africa. The use of Braille in brochures and pamphlets that promote human rights was also acknowledged as a key way to make communications more inclusive. 

On the overall value of this study tour, David McQuoid-Mason commented, “This South-South exchange between Fiji and South Africa was especially beneficial for sharing knowledge, skills and expertise across countries. Participants were able to see first-hand how judicial and legal sector institutions function in South Africa, including at the very grassroots levels, and ascertain key areas where these learnings could directly be applied to their operations in the Fijian context.” 

In relation to application of new knowledge, the Fiji Access to Justice Project Manager, Christine Fowler said, “The focus of the knowledge exchange was towards validating proposed new initiatives and fostering innovative ideas to further enhance service delivery across Fiji.  

Activities under the Fiji Access to Project will support both the LAC and HRADC in the implementation of a range of initiatives to apply this new knowledge”. 

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 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. 

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