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The Honourable Chief Justice and Members of the Judiciary;
The Honourable Attorney-General/Acting Prime Minister;
Honourable Ministers;
Honourable Members of Parliament;
The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment;
Your Excellencies, Heads of Missions and members of the Diplomatic Corps;
Distinguished Guests and Panelists;
Members of the Legal Profession,

Ni sa bula vinaka, namaste, asalaam alaykum, ni hao, kona mauri, talofa, noa’ia‘e mauri, and a very good morning to you all.

It is my great pleasure to be among such great company this morning, as we officially commence the 20th Attorney-General’s Conference here on the pristine shores of Natadola Beach.

I would like to personally congratulate the Honourable Attorney-General for bringing the Conference to this two-decade milestone, and give a word of thanks to his entire team who work so tirelessly every December to make it happen.

Last week, I had the distinct privilege of opening a new session of our Parliament; signalling the start of a new year of debates, discussions, new ideas and new laws that will transform many aspects of your profession. I laid out my Government’s legislative agenda, which covers a wide range of new and extremely pertinent topics in the legal field, from new public health protections, to preventing substance abuse in our society, to even greater efforts to promote traditional knowledge and protect forms of cultural expression.

Of course, the opening of the new session of Parliament followed the outcome of our parliamentary elections, which we should all be proud to know were deemed free, fair and credible again this year by a multinational group of observers. Our most recent election represents only the second genuine democratic election in Fijian history, as it is the 2013 Fijian Constitution that – for the first time – guarantees all Fijians one vote that equates to one value. The result of this election again represents an electoral referendum of our Constitution, the supreme law of our country that establishes the institutions of our democracy and institutes the mandates for the government of the day to advance the well-being of all Fijians, irrespective of any of the differences that – together – compose the rich fabric of our national life.

It is through the laws outlined in our Constitution that Fiji sits where we are today, in a position of unmatched strength and equality. Through its guidance, and the rights that it enshrines, more Fijians have access to clean water, reliable electricity, affordable housing, free education, and more. It is because of this Constitution that iTaukei landowning rights are no longer under threat.
And it is because of this Constitution that we have created a business and political ethos that is rid of the tumult and anxiety of the past, giving Fijians renewed confidence in our future. Through this year’s election, only the second since the Constitution came into force, this supreme law has been further cemented as the foundation of Fiji’s future.

That brings us here, where we build upon this Constitutional foundation. As the premiere gathering of both legal practitioners the legally-curious in Fiji, this event serves as a meeting of the minds –– minds that belong to some of our region’s most forward-thinking and influential experts in law, society, and business. Year after year, this Conference has existed on the cutting-edge of change and development and has given us a glimpse into what is to come –– a preview of the Fiji of tomorrow.

That kind of foresight is incredibly valuable in an evolving legal environment, and can help you map out your own plans to move forward in your professional lives. When I say ‘evolving’, that evolution, that growth, has been incredibly evident over the past year. Since last year’s Conference, many major laws have been passed or implemented –– the Accident Compensation Act 2017 commenced on 1 January of this year; the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act 2018 and the Fair Share of Mineral Royalties Act 2018, just to name a few, were passed by Parliament. And even more laws were amended. Through these changes, thousands of ordinary Fijians are already seeing the benefits; the Accident Compensation Act has paid out 1.2 million dollars to victims’ families, providing financial security in times of great personal loss and strife.

Fijians with disabilities are protected more than ever, and empowered to live out their lives and participate in our economic development without fear of discrimination. And landowners are tapping into a guaranteed fair share of the lucrative mining industry, advancing our national economy and allowing more Fijians to tap into the potential their land holds.

Looking at a small piece of how much the law can change over the course of a single year, it is only natural that the topics for discussion have evolved greatly over the years, alongside a rapidly-changing economy, geopolitical landscape, and climate. 20 years ago, very few of us could have imagined that Fiji would have progressed to where we stand now; when this Conference met for the first time, the implementation of our nation’s laws was weak, our infrastructure limited, and our telecommunications were virtually non-existent outside of urban centres. Fiji struggled to keep pace with rapid developments among the more highly-developed international community, and our nascent legal system reflected that.

I know not all of you were practicing in the legal profession 20 years ago, some of you may have no memories of that time at all. But the Fiji of today is a far cry from that time. The Fiji of today is no longer a nation of followers; when it comes to preparing for a more sustainable and legally equitable future, we stand shoulder-to-shoulder with global powerhouses. Even more impressively, in many instances, we are leading the pack. You will see this in the many leadership positions Fiji has assumed in recent years; from the presidencies of COP23 and the United Nations General Assembly, to the chairmanships of the G-77 plus China, World Bank Small States Forum, and Commonwealth Telecommunications Organisation, to the co-hosting of the first-ever UN Ocean Conference, and now, as the first-ever Pacific island country elected to the United Nations Human Rights Council. Through all of this, it is undeniable that Fiji’s voice is being amplified louder and spread farther than at any point in our nation’s history. And you, as members of the legal fraternity, are the standard-bearers of the new laws in these areas that help Fiji lead from the front, and prove that our talk is more than just talk, it is real and tangible action.

This new era of Fijian prominence –– one of visionary leadership from the front –– will be on full display over the course of these two days, as the 20th Conference will tackle head-on a number of issues that are fundamentally reshaping the way that we navigate the 21st century world. Issues that are likely to lead the news cycle and spark conversations in the year ahead are first discussed here, among all of you. In a time when fear-mongering and falsehoods can spread unchecked –– both on social media and at the community level –– your informed and measured voices on the issues of the day can make a real difference in how Fijians see the world. As of late, it is often been difficult to know who or what to trust; more than ever, we are seeing the most trustworthy source for information being word-of-mouth from a trusted friend or family member. I think it is safe to say that you, among our country’s most educated and civically-engaged, are likely approached on a regular basis by your loved ones, peers and neighbours for your opinion on the issues of the day. That is why your contributions, and your active participation, over the course of this Conference are truly invaluable to shaping the national discourse for 2019 and beyond.

Again, I applaud the Conference’s organisers for putting together an agenda that considers both global and local matters of contention –– a truly “glocal” slate of discussions that simultaneously reflect both a changing world and a changing Fiji. Today, you will hear from local and international thought leaders in the areas of international arbitration, electronic and smart contracts, and the future of urban and town planning. And tomorrow’s sessions will take a deep dive into the often toxic and lawless world of social media, the need for capacity-building in developing states’ competition laws, and how human rights are impacted by our environment. This sweeping agenda promises to shed light on issues that will help us to prepare for a future where we see society, and the world around it, needing to adapt to emerging threats, evolving technologies, and an increasingly global legal framework. Because as our stability is under siege by modern obstacles that transcend national borders like climate change and cybercrime, we must act with boldness to stay ahead of the curve. And as our economy continues to grow to reach foreign markets and attract international investment, we must act with vision to ensure that Fiji does not fall behind, but rather is forever cemented as the hub of the Pacific.

For it is through the rule of law, first and foremost, that we can guarantee that our ongoing prosperity extends to every Fijian family, that each Fijian is able to tap into their full potential, and that no one is left out of the fold of our national development. The rule of law adds structure and predictability to society, and it allows Fiji to be stable and business-friendly while protecting the rights and safety of ordinary citizens and consumers. The rule of law is the foundation on which all progress is built, and it is the security net that allows peace of mind in times of turmoil. The rule of law creates order, and as such, it has proven to be the pillar on which our successful democracy has thrived.

The vast majority of you here today are practitioners of the law. Those who we as a society have entrusted with the duty of strengthening the body of laws in our country by testing our laws in the courts, by defending the interests of your clients and protecting the integrity of our legal system. But make no mistake –– you are not members of a special caste, a select few who are the sole owners and arbiters of legal understanding. The law is for all Fijians. The law is for everyone, for the very reason that it so profoundly affects all of us in our daily lives. And every Fijian deserves to have the confidence that they can find justice in our legal system. They must have confidence that their interests will be protected. And they must have the confidence that –– no matter how complex their matter may be –– they can understand the law, how exactly it affects them and how it can empower them. I am extremely proud that this Government has overseen such an unprecedented expansion of legal aid services in Fiji for that very reason. We have opened another 5 offices this year, increasing the total number of offices where Fijians can access the law throughout Fiji to 15. This number is scheduled to increase to 21 legal aid offices within the next 7 months. In the past year alone, over 40,000 low-income Fijians have taken advantage of a wide range of free services that these offices provide. These tens of thousands of Fijians, previously unrepresented and left alone without knowing the benefits that law can afford, now have accessed free consultations in the areas of family, criminal, and civil law, in addition to free legal advice, assisting with document witnessing, dealing with probate matters, and helping them navigate landlord-tenant issues. This achievement is equally as important as new parliamentary Acts; because in the end, the laws that are passed to protect the most vulnerable among us would not be worth the paper they are written on if they are not wielded on behalf of those who need it.

Law –– it is the reason that you are all here, and the same reason that the Parliament gathered last week for its first sitting. All too often, some seem to forget the ultimate reason that we elect our Members of Parliament: with our votes, we are entrusting them with the ability to create and adapt the laws that impact every aspect of our lives. It is a burden of responsibility that should never be taken lightly, and it is why I encourage all Fijians to take a more active role in becoming politically engaged and informed on the issues, and I encourage all of you here to help me spread the importance of this mission.

New developments in telecommunications like free-to-air television, free WiFi hotspots, and more reliable and affordable data means that we have no excuse to stay uninformed; more than ever in Fiji, a wealth of knowledge is quite literally at your fingertips. All Fijians can be active participants in how law is formed, and I encourage all, young and old, to take the time to read the news, watch Parliament on television or your smart phone, get to know your Members of Parliament, and even take a look into the Bills that are up for debate. Go a step further by making your voice heard –– speak to your Members of Parliament, write in to your newspapers, or post your newly-informed opinions on social media –– while hopefully, taking the time to stamp out some of the many mistruths that can catch fire if left unchecked by reality. By exercising this type of civic responsibility, Fijians can be active agents in strengthening our democracy, playing a vital role in creating a more conscious and lawful society for the benefit of all Fijians now and into the future.

And for those of you here, your responsibility is much greater, and the steps to achieving a brighter future for law in Fiji are much more ambitious. You are not spectators to the law –– you are the final arbiters for change. That is why I encourage you to take each of these sessions seriously, and use it not just as an opportunity for networking or filling your points requirement, but for fostering real and meaningful discourse that can ultimately help form how these issues unfold throughout Fiji.

With that, ladies and gentlemen, it is now my great pleasure to officially open the 20th Attorney-General’s Conference.

Vinaka vakalevu, dhanyavaad, sukria, xièxiè, ko bati nraba, fa’afetai, fai’eksia and thank you.
And may Almighty God continue to bless our beloved Fiji and People.



© 2018 Ministry of Communications