Hon. Chief Justice, Anthony Gates
Honorable Members of Parliament, Permanent Secretaries from the Government Ministries, Magistrates
Director of the Office of Public Prosecution, Christopher Pryde
Acting Director of Legal Aid Commission, Shahin Ali
European Delegation Team Leader, Ingrid Swinnen
Head of Measuring Justice at the Hague Institute for Innovation of Law, Martin Gramatikov
Members of civil society, legal practice community and media corpus:
I am very pleased to welcome you all to the Public Launch of the Fiji Access to Justice Assessment. Thank you for being here with us this afternoon. It is heartening to see key partners present in this event, representing all three branches of government, the independent institutions, civil society groups and practicing lawyers.
Over the past two years, UNDP and our Fiji partners – the Judicial Department, Legal Aid Commission, Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Commission as well as others – have been implementing ‘Fiji Access to Justice Project’ funded by the European Union and UNDP.
Today, we are here to launch one of the project milestones - Access to Justice Assessment in Fiji - in partnership with the Judicial Department and Legal Aid Commission.
UNDP defines ‘access to justice’ as the right of individuals and groups to obtain a quick, effective and fair response to protect rights, prevent or solve disputes, and control abuse of power through transparent and efficient processes, and affordable and accountable means.
Some examples of what this broad term means include: first-time offenders receiving legal assistance that protects their rights; victims seeing cases perpetrated against effectively prosecuted; court cases proceeding at the proper pace; mothers being able to legally assured of child support; spouses assured of fair division of property and assets in line with their legal rights; families being able to access legal remedy in cases where household lands are misappropriated – and the list goes on.
The assessment we are embarking upon will seek to analyze whether citizens are actually able to access and use justice institutions to solve their common justice problems, identify factors affecting their ability to do so, and examine what reforms and programs could make justice sector institutions more responsive to citizens’ needs.
Beyond this, the assessment will also sample the citizens’ perceptions on access to justice. This represents a particularly brave and necessary move. Not all perceptions will be negative, but certainly not all will be positive.
The underlying premise of this approach is that citizens’ perspectives represent an integral factor in measuring access to justice from the bottom up. The assessment will dig into perceptions and actual experiences, distinguishing views being held by those who have been in contact with legal system, and those who have not.
The assessment is not an isolated stand-alone study. It will create an important baseline for all of Fiji’s access to justice work with a rigor and scope that have not been attempted before. Outcome of this assessment will be used to develop continuing support for justice institutions, and indeed inform the entire justice sector. Above all, it will help Fiji stakeholders determine where policy and resources should be directed to improve the access to justice situation for all citizens.
The conduct of this assessment is a complex endeavour and we have been able to mobilize one of the leading global think-tanks in evidence-based legal policy research, the Hague Institute for Innovation of Law, to implement this activity.
This project is also an important partnership that brings together key justice sector actors around the shared goal of ensuring justice for all Fijians. This work would not have been possible without their vision and leadership. I would like to once again express UNDP’s appreciation to our national partners and stakeholders, and to the European Union for financing this project.
Thank you all very much!