United Nations Resident Coordinator (UNRC) to Fiji and 9 other Pacific Island Countries, yesterday highlighted the importance of the judiciary in serving justice and peace to the people of Fiji.
While opening the Criminal Law Workshop for Judges and Magistrates in Sigatoka, UNRC Sanaka Samarasinha reiterated that people are looking to the judiciary as the last bastion of hope, equity and reason in democracies around the world.
At the same time here in Fiji, faith in governance institutions, home and abroad are at an all-time high as evidenced among other things by the recently concluded general elections and the election of Ambassador Nazhat Shameem Khan as Vice President of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva” Mr. Samarasinha said.
In his address, Mr. Samarasinha highlighted three key areas that need to be addressed by the Judiciary in the Pacific.
- Operational inefficiencies
- Human resources development
Operational inefficiencies can be improved by expanding alternative dispute resolution, improving court and case management, scheduling and streamlining of procedures and structures and an optimal use of IT.
Central to an effective justice system is a well – trained and educated judiciary.
“It is crucial to engage the executive and legislative branches in providing an enabling environment – policies and budget – in support of training programs for the judiciary such as establishing a continuing legal education center for legal professionals.
Reforming the justice sector will only be successful if judges understand and agree that reforms are necessary. Consideration of how to eliminate biases and discrimination based on gender, race, religion, ethnicity, class, age, disability or sexual orientation must be an inherent part of the discourse,” said Mr. Samarasinha.
Accessibility to an independent and impartial court to receive a fair and just trial is the right of every person.
“Strategies to make courts more accessible especially to the most disadvantaged, vulnerable and marginalised, in theory seem obvious. But in practice, this takes considerable amount of time, resources, commitment and energy,” Mr. Samarasinha highlighted.
Mr. Samarasinha also said that equal justice under the law must be understood and dispensed in a world where inequalities abound.
“To treat unequally situated people equally only continues the discrimination.
In fact, equal justice means equitable treatment in court. And this means finding creative, yet legal ways to balance the existing power imbalance. And that starts by making more of an effort to understand the disparities and their underlying causes,” said Mr. Samarsinha.
The RC said that justice delivered, or justice denied depends on the commitment of judges to promote institutional change, uphold human rights and attend to the vulnerabilities of the marginalised and disadvantaged in society.