Honorable Chief Justice, Anthony Gates
Amb. Nazhat Shameem Khan, Permanent Representative of Fiji to the UN in Geneva
Amb. Andrew Jacobs from the European Union Delegation to Fiji and the Pacific
Honorable Judges, Chief Registrar, Chief Magistrate and Magistrates
Ladies and gentlemen:
A very good morning to you all!
It is a pleasure to be here with you all this morning for the opening of the Criminal Law Workshop. This workshop is part of the Judicial Department’s annual upskilling programme, and I would like to start by acknowledging the Department’s commitment to continuous knowledge and skills enhancement.
An independent, impartial and efficient judiciary is a cornerstone of the rule of law in a democratic state. It serves to protect human rights and people’s liberties, provides a check on other branches of government, and helps secure an environment conducive to social progress and human development. Workshops such as this provide a forum for learning and peer exchange to strengthen the institutional capacity of the judiciary. And this investment in knowledge and skills goes a long way as it benefits all citizens who are in need of fair and effective access to justice.
The 17 Sustainable Development Goals adopted by all UN member states in September 2015 have set a new and comprehensive agenda for political, economic, environmental, and social transformation within the next decade and a half. The SDGs, also known as Agenda 2030, were a true milestone for institutional governance and rule of law. Effective governance is part of the new global agenda both as an enabler for achieving all goals and as a goal in itself. Indeed, no country can achieve socio-economic goals without well-functioning governance institutions.
In particular, SDG 16 talks about universal access to justice, and effective, accountable and inclusive institutions that are responsive to the needs of ordinary people, including the poor and disadvantaged. This simple concept reminds us all that institutions in any sector or branch of power exist to serve people, not the other way round.
The Fiji Access to Justice Project, which is funded by the European Union and implemented by UNDP, is one of the initiatives that promote people-centered justice institutions and service delivery. It targets vulnerable groups by helping them access legal rights and services through relevant justice institutions, while strengthening those institutions to undertake improved service delivery. The Project supports a range of activities working in partnership with the Judicial Department, Legal Aid Commission and the Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Commission.
One of the areas supported under the project since 2016 is the Pilot of the First-Hour Procedure and Video Recorded Interviews. Justice sector stakeholders had previously identified these two priority actions to further protect rights under the Constitution of the Republic of Fiji.
These actions relate to the rights of a person who is first arrested and detained by the police (‘First Hour Procedure’) and, thereafter, the processes and rights during the interview by the police following cautioning (‘Video Recorded Interviews’). Both are clearly aimed at improving the effectiveness of the justice sector in delivering ‘early access to justice’. There was a further impetus to address these two issues following Fiji’s ratification, in March 2016, of the UN Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (UNCAT).
I understand that there has been good progress in implementing the pilot with a continued strong commitment across the institutions of the justice sector. The inclusion of the session on UNCAT and Video Recorded Interviews in this workshop serves to demonstrate this commitment. I’m pleased to welcome our international guest expert for this session, Mr. Michael Kellet, Vice-President of the Board of Association for the Prevention of Torture.
Ladies and gentlemen:
Let me conclude by wishing you all an intellectually stimulating workshop over the coming days. I would like to express UNDP’s strong appreciation to the Judicial Department and the Honorable Chief Justice for the conduct of this workshop, and to the European Union for valuable support and partnership in making it happen. For us at UNDP, this remains a truly rewarding partnership that puts people at the centre of development. We look forward to working together with all our partners to deliver tangible benefits to Fijians around the country.