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The Solicitor-General and Chairman of the Legal Aid Commission;
The Acting Director of the Legal Aid Commission;
Ladies and Gentlemen.

Bula Vinaka and a very good afternoon to you all.

I’ve just arrived in Vanua Levu, and it is wonderful to be spending my first day in the North with your community. Yesterday, I was in Keyasi, in the interior of Viti Levu, where we also opened a new Legal Aid Office, and I’m delighted to be doing the same here in Seaqaqa this afternoon.

Today is another milestone for our Northern Division. It is another chapter in my long-standing commitment to focus Government resources on unlocking the potential of the North by bringing communities, like Seaqaqa, the same level of services, infrastructure and opportunity that can be found in Viti Levu. But before we get on with this opening, I want to share with you a story I told in Keyasi yesterday.

Some of you may have seen the headlines in August of last year from a horrific event in Nabou in Viti Levu, where eight lives were lost in a road accident.

It was a tragedy felt across the country. We all sympathised dearly with all those who suffered the terrible and sudden loss of a loved one, and the memory of that event remains painfully etched in our national consciousness to this day.

In the midst of their unimaginable heartache, the families impacted by that tragedy were left to make sense of a catastrophic and unexpected situation. Some families had lost their bread-winner, someone who they counted on to make ends meet in their household. Others lost children, whose lives each held astonishing promise. It was an incredibly painful time for those Fijian families.

But in the immediate aftermath of that event, families who needed the support were able to turn to the women and men of the Legal Aid Commission to seek the assistance they deserved in their time of suffering. It was the Legal Aid Officers who helped those families with the paperwork and legal documentation to enable them to assume administration over their deceased family members’ estate, allowing them to receive compensation money from the Accident Compensation Commission Fiji. They didn’t need to front the costs of those legal fees themselves. They didn’t need to spend months, or years, in the courts. Instead, they quickly received legal expertise that enabled them to access our recently established Accident Compensation Commission Fiji, which paid out invaluable assistance to those families in their time of need.

Whether you are a family suffering from the loss of a loved one; a family facing eviction; a mother seeking custody of a child; a couple looking to adopt a new member of their family; someone who is facing criminal charges; or someone in their later stages of life who needs to draft a will, the Legal Aid Commission is there to support the Fijian people. Our Legal Aid Officers are a capable and comforting voice of legal expertise, provided free of charge, as well as a source of legal representation for families who qualify for assistance. The provision of these services is not charity, it is a realisation of the constitutional right of every Fijian; the right of equal access to justice.

That is why today is so important, as we officially open the Seaqaqa branch of the Legal Aid Commission. Today, we’re bringing those services directly to your doorstep, putting you on equal footing with Fijians in our major towns and urban areas.

I’m well aware of the reality once faced by your community. If any of you, as residents in Seaqaqa, wanted to speak with a Legal Aid Officer, that often meant making the arduous and costly journey to Labasa. But accessing justice shouldn’t mean hours of travel by bus or car. You must be able to access justice here, in your community, where you live, work and raise your families. And as of today, you finally can.

Now, I’m aware there is no court established in Seaqaqa. But some of you may be surprised to know that the vast majority of legal work actually takes place outside of the courtroom. So, it’s actually very important that we bring free legal expertise and services direct to your community.

At this office, you can obtain advice, free-of-charge, to assist with witnessing documents, such as birth certificates, academic transcripts and so on, dealing with landlord and tenant related issues, drafting wills and helping with probate matters. And with their knowledge and expertise to help guide you, you can all, more easily than ever before, wield the tremendous power of the rule of law for your benefit and the benefit of your families.

If your family earns less than 15,000 dollars a year, you can also obtain free legal representation in Family and Criminal matters, and even in some civil matters as well.

At this new Legal Aid Office, you will have a lawyer available two to three days of the week who will provide free legal services. You will also have a full-time Client Information Officer and Registry Officer to provide first-line legal assistance.

I also want to make clear that juveniles can utilise the services offered at Legal Aid Offices in Fiji free of charge. As a young person, your socio-economic background will not be considered, neither will the socio-economic status of your family. These doors are always open to you, and I encourage young people in need of legal services to take full advantage.

This week is one of historic proportions for the Legal Aid Commission. Yesterday, as I mentioned, we opened a new Keyasi Branch of the Legal Aid Commission. Tomorrow, I’ll go to Taveuni, where we’ll be opening the first Legal Aid office on the island. Rotuma, Kadavu and Vunidawa will soon be welcoming new Legal Aid offices of their own, and once we finish work on the office in Levuka, we’ll have 22 branches of the Commission throughout Fiji. Four of which are here on Vanua Levu.

These milestone achievements in expanding access to justice are being made possible by an unprecedented spending commitment from my Government towards the expansion of legal aid, including the 10.4 million dollars allocated in this financial year. On a per capita basis, our financial commitment towards the expansion of legal aid services ranks Fiji as a world leader in funding access to justice. We’re seeing the returns of that world-leading effort. Today, the Legal Aid Commission is Fiji’s largest law firm. Every day it gives more low-income earners in Fiji greater opportunity than ever before to seek legal advice and enjoy the security, assurance and full protection of the law.

That matters, because the law, and access to legal services, are the great equalisers in Fijian society. Thanks to our Fijian Constitution, in our courts there is no favour granted to anyone on the basis of their background, their wealth or their social status. The law views each of us equally. That sacred truth forms the very basis of our common and equal citizenry and our shared identity, as one nation and one people. For that reason, we cannot tolerate financial limitations on access to justice. We cannot tolerate marginalisation in our justice system. If any Fijian needs representation, they must be able to get it. And that is what the women and men employed in this new office are dedicated to delivering for the Fijian people.

Since the beginning of last month, we’ve also been providing Births, Deaths and Marriages services out of the Seaqaqa District Office on Monday and Friday every week. Again, we’ve done away with another obstacle faced by your community in accessing important government services. If you need to register a birth, death or marriage; if you need to print out copies of birth, marriage and death certificates; even if you need to view titles, conduct deeds searches, or register a business, that can now happen directly in your community for the first time ever.

But that is not all we celebrate today, as I’m also opening a newly upgraded Land Transport Authority office in your community. The old LTA office in Seaqaqa wasn’t capable of delivering the high quality of services your community deserves. But this new office has been entirely re-thought and re-vamped, making it more spacious and customer-friendly than ever before. Here, you can apply for learners permits, take driving tests, renew your licence, get your vehicle inspected, issue registration certificates, and access other services that keep our drivers responsible and ensure our roads are safe.

Today is a big day for Seaqaqa, and for the Northern Division. Today, you become a part of our national development and national life like never before. Today, you are no longer on the sidelines of service delivery, waiting for your moment to enjoy the same level of services found in Viti Levu or in our major towns and cities. Today, your moment has come.

As always, my Government’s commitment to each one of you is unwavering, and we will continue to come to you with the services and infrastructure you need to make life better and to secure an even brighter future.

Vinaka vakalevu. Thank you.


© 2018 Ministry of Communications