The Ministry of Justice and Legal Affairs (MJLA) in partnership with the Public Solicitor’s Office (PSO) and United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) have commenced consultations with key justice actors in Auki, Malaita Province with a view to enhancing access to justice across the province.
The consultations are supported by the Solomon Islands Access to Justice (A2J) project, funded by the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and jointly implemented by UNDP and the PSO.
The A2J team engaged in knowledge sharing with the Premier of Malaita, Mr. Daniel Suidani, lead by A2J Deputy Project Manager Ms. Stella Tuhaika. Ms. Tuhaika explained the the A2J project’s objective to strengthen the capacity and reach of the PSO in the provinces through a two-tiered paralegal strategy. Tier one involves paralegal support to supervising lawyers in established provincial PSO offices. Tier two pilots a community legal advocates (CLAs) initiative whereby CLAs located in selected communities serve as a bridge between the communities and the formal justice sector.
CLAs are an innovative addition to the justice sector. Their work in providing justice services contributes to achieving Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 16 for peaceful, justice and strong institutions at a grassroots level. CLAs provide a dynamic, cost-effective, community-oriented alternative to lawyers, akin to the relationship between rural public health workers and doctors. They work in conjunction with lawyers and enhance applicability of legal and policy solutions to individual and community problems. CLAs are selected from the community they are intended to serve and consequently have a deep knowledge of the context. They provide tailored solutions, not just to individuals, but to whole groups, and assist with empowering the community to advance their interests.
The Premier of Malaita, Mr. Daniel Suidani, warmly welcomed the A2J team and expressed his appreciation for the inclusion of Malaita Province in the pilot initiative. Mr. Suidani emphasized the need to enhance access between rural communities to formal justice institutions through innovative collaborative solutions such as the CLAs and pledged support for the initiative.
“Malaita is the most populated province in the Solomon Islands and its population has experienced challenges in accessing formal justice services. Greater legal awareness and access to justice services are needed in Malaita given the fact that most of the population heavily relies on traditional forms of justice. These traditional dispute resolution mechanisms are sometimes contrary to the accepted formal justice processes and can disproportionately impact women, especially in cases of domestic violence.”
Similar concerns were shared by the Malaitan Provincial Council of Women regarding gender-based violence in rural communities. The Council’s President, Ms.Matha Rurai, said “based on the Council’s data, women are one of the most vulnerable groups in terms of limited access to justice services and the Council supports the CLA pilot with its unique direct connection to the Auki PSO, which has a well-established family law unit”.
Drawing from their extensive professional experience at the PSO and community engagement, Ms. Cathy Hite and Mr. Oxley Limeniala, both stressed that high transport costs can be a limiting factor for many people, especially women, to travel to Auki PSO and seek support for legal issues.
Permanent Secretary of MJLA, Dr. Paul Mae assured the Malaitan Premier of the Solomon Islands Government’s strong support to ensuring formal justice services are improved and accessible throughout the Solomon Islands. Dr. Mae also stated his commitment to addressing the serious issues of gender-based violence, which issues have reportedly been exacerbated during the Covid-19 crisis.
Ms. Tuhaika from UNDP identified the A2J project’s place in addressing these important concerns noting that, “the CLA pilot is a novel approach to help address pervasive problems of gender-based violence as the connection to the provincial PSO and grassroots community lessens the requirement for travel at the first instance”.
TheA2J Team is travelling to North Malaita to conduct further community consultation, mapping, and a baseline survey for the CLAs. The Solomon Islands A2J Project is funded through the support of the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and jointly implemented by UNDP and the PSO.
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