The Honourable Chief Justice;

The Attorney-General;

Honourable Members of the Judiciary;

The Chair and members of the Legal Aid Commission;

Invited Guests;

Ladies and Gentlemen;

Bula Vinaka and Good morning to all of you present here today to mark this important occasion. It is my pleasure to be here this morning to open the new Nadi Office of the Legal Aid Commission.

Today marks another solid step in my Government's efforts to ensure that all Fijians have equal access to justice system.

Nadi is one of the largest town centres in Fiji and the fastest growing. It also has a substantial surrounding rural population. With the opening of this Office, the residents of Nadi and its greater area will no longer have to travel far to seek legal aid assistance. We are removing the obstacles of time, distance, and expense.

Ladies and Gentlemen, my Government remains firmly committed to providing equal access to the justice system for every Fijian, in particular for those Fijians who are unable to afford the services of a lawyer.

Without proper legal counsel, a person may not get the justice he or she deserves. Equal access to justice should mean just that—justice that is readily available to all. It must be a reality, not just a hope.

Some talk about the rule of law without necessarily understanding that a key component of this principle must include equal access to the justice system. Conversely how can we talk about substantive justice when there is no access to the justice system for the poor, the weak, the vulnerable?

Without legal counsel, Court matters get delayed, and this is at the cost of tax payers.

But beyond the cost, we know that justice delayed is justice denied. Legal Aid services and Court matters need to be expedited so that justice is sure, deliberate, and as prompt as possible.

At the end of the day, providing equal access to justice to all Fijians is the responsibility of the Government. In order for Legal Aid to work for the people, to do its job, it has to be adequately funded.

It is for this reason, my Government has ensured that the Legal Aid Commission has the staff, facilities, and funds it needs to assist people who cannot afford the services of a lawyer.

As the need for legal services in the community has increased, my Government has steadily increased its funding to the Legal Aid Commission, which now employs 25 lawyers, and 28 corporate and support staff. The total number of staff, I am told, will soon increase to more than 64.

This new Nadi Office of the Legal Aid Commission is a part of that expansion. It is modern and well resourced. It has facilities to accommodate clients wishing to make legal aid applications as well as separate interview rooms for clients to protect their privacy and ensure confidentiality.

The Legal Aid Commission has permanent offices in Suva, Ba, Lautoka, and Labasa. The Nausori Office has opened doors and shall be officially opened by me within the next month. This morning, the Legal Aid Commission opens its doors in Nadi. This afternoon, a new Legal Aid Commission office will also open in Rakiraki. And we have plans to open an office in Sigatoka in the new year.

I am pleased to tell you that the Legal Aid Commission is also reviewing its current systems and procedures to improve service delivery. With the review of the eligibility criteria, more Fijians will become entitled to Legal Aid assistance, and applications for legal aid will be processed more expeditiously.

During my tour of the country in early 2010, many people had complained that there was little provision in Fiji for civil legal aid services. I took immediate steps to satisfy their concerns, and as a result, the Legal Aid Commission began providing legal assistance in areas of civil law--such as drafting of Wills, taking out letters of administration, probate matters, and assisting with FNPF withdrawals in absence of nomination. The people of Fiji now receive these services free of charge from Legal Aid.

My Government is committed to assisting the poor and disadvantaged of Fiji, and one of the most important ways we do this is through Legal Aid.

The Legal Aid Commission has established its place in the law and justice sector and is here to stay. I can assure all Fijians that my Government will remain committed to the cause of this noble organisation, which gives access to justice system to the most vulnerable in our society.

I would like to express my appreciation to the Attorney-General and the Solicitor General’s Chambers for their commitment to seeing justice expanded in Fiji, and to the Legal Aid Commission Board and the staff for their passion and dedication in serving Fijians.

As I have stated when I leave here today, I will travel to the province of Ra, where I will open the Legal Aid Commission’s Rakiraki Office in the afternoon. Opening two new Legal Aid Offices makes this a wonderful day for me personally and for the people of Nadi and Rakiraki.

And now I have much pleasure in officially declaring open the Nadi Legal Aid Commission.