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Sigatoka, FIJI – August 22, 2019: 12.10pm (UNDP/LEGAL AID/EU): Improved access to legal aid and justice services for remote populations in the Pacific will be a key issue to be addressed at the Pacific Regional Legal Aid Conference currently underway at the Coral Coast. The Conference opened today, and aims to enhance access to justice for vulnerable groups, women and youth across the Pacific by harnessing shared experiences on the delivery of free legal aid services.   

The Conference is hosted by the Fiji Legal Aid Commission and supported by the Fiji Access to Justice Project, which is funded by the European Union (EU) and implemented by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). The Project supports access to justice for impoverished and vulnerable groups through empowering people to access legal rights and services, and strengthening key justice institutions to deliver improved services.

Discussions during the three-day conference will be enriched by the experience and expertise shared by over 70 legal aid experts and practitioners, not only from the Pacific region, including Fiji, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Palau, Samoa, Tonga, Tuvalu, Vanuatu, but also from Brazil, Canada, Maldives, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Solomon Islands, South Africa and Tanzania.

Timoci Romanu, Acting Chief Public Defender from the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM), who participates in the Conference, shared, “FSM is a small island country and the islands are separated each other by the ocean. We deal with unique challenges in delivering legal aid services to people which arise from geographical remoteness, and limited trained legal aid lawyers among others. ”

“I expect and am excited to share and learn from other legal aid experiences and see how those can be adopted in our context,” Romanu added.

Welcoming participants to the conference, Head of Cooperation, European Union Delegation for the Pacific Christoph Wagner said, “As part of the EU’s development cooperation in the Pacific, I am thrilled to extend our support for regional cooperation, knowledge exchange and technical coordination through this Conference under the Fiji Access to Justice Project.”

Wagner added that the EU is an enthusiastic supporter of the justice sector in many countries and works alongside many international and national institutions to implement justice sector reforms.

The Conference kick-started with the launch of the Fiji Legal Aid Commission Strategic Plan 2019-2021. The Commission’s Plan adheres to the UN Principles and Guidelines, which is also in line with the Fiji Government’s policy of taking essential services to the most rural and remote areas.

  

Legal Aid Commission Acting Director Shahin Ali said, “The Commission’s strategic approach includes the provision and extension of a number of legal aid services in criminal, family and civil matters to Fijians who were deprived in the past because of affordability and location.”

“This includes free legal advice, representation in court, first‑hour services, certification and witnessing of documents, creation of wills and community awareness programs which help Fijians understand their legal rights,” he added.

UNDP Pacific Office in Fiji Resident Representative Levan Bouadze emphasised that access to justice is a key driver to reduce poverty and strengthen democratic governance. 

“Addressing the realities on the ground and recognising the linkages between access to justice, poverty and inequality, accountability and the rule of law, UNDP continues to support the Pacific region to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, and in this context particularly focuses on Goal 16, which is commitment to promoting peaceful and inclusive societies, providing access to justice for all and building effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels,” said Bouadze.

Through the South-South Cooperation exhibited in this Conference, various legal aid systems in the Pacific and in similar developing country settings will be showcased. At the end of the Conference, participants are expected to come up with concrete strategies to be implemented at both national and regional levels to bring legal aid to vulnerable populations in remote and rural areas. …PACNEWS

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