Sigatoka, Fiji – Ensuring early access to justice for people in Fiji, was the overarching theme at a series of two-day training conducted over a week for officers from justice sector institutions at the Coral Coast in Sigatoka.
One hundred and twenty (77 women and 43 men) officers from the Fiji Legal Aid Commission, Fiji Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Commission, and other justice sector institutions learned and demonstrated their skills to provide effective early access to justice in criminal justice processes.
The training was part of the EU-Funded Fiji Access to Justice Project implemented by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
Professor David McQuoid-Mason, President of the Commonwealth Legal Education Association, University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, one of the trainers for the course, ‘Early Access to Justice in Criminal Justice Processes’, emphasized that the early stages of the criminal justice process—the first hours of custody or detention—are crucial for those who have been arrested or detained in respect of a criminal offence. The way in which suspects and accused persons are treated, has a significant impact on the efficiency and effectiveness of the criminal justice system.
“Access to justice during the early stages of the criminal justice process protects people at a time when they are most vulnerable, and is a key safeguard against torture and ill-treatment. It also ensures that poor and vulnerable people are treated with respect and dealt with fairly, and helps to strengthen criminal justice institutions and make them more responsive to the needs of citizens,” said Professor David McQuoid-Mason.
The training enhanced knowledge and skills of the participants to enable the delivery of access to justice as required under the Constitution of the Republic of Fiji, which provides for the rights of arrested and detained persons. The training also provides support to the ongoing initiatives being undertaken by the Fiji Government following the ratification of the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment on 16 March 2016.
The European Union (EU) Ambassador to Fiji and the Pacific, H.E Andrew Jacobs said: ''The EU is proud to support this training that will contribute to the strengthening of the rule of law by enhancing the capacity of the Fiji Legal Aid Commission, Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Commission and other justice sector institutions in delivering access to justice for all Fijians.''
Bakhodir Burkhanov, Country Director and Head of Regional Policy and Programme for the UNDP Pacific Office in Fiji said, “Access to justice is both an enabler for development and an outcome of development in its own right. As such, it is prominent in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which the Fiji Government has endorsed. This initiative supports Sustainable Development Goal 16 which promotes peaceful and inclusive societies, including access to justice for all, as well as Goal 5 which targets gender equality and empowerment of all women and girls”.
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 training was organized and delivered by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) as part of the on-going project, Fiji Access to Justice.