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EDITORIAL: Better Access To Legal Services Good For Justice

The case of R v Sussex Justices, Ex parte McCarthy ([1924] is a leading English case on the impartiality and recusal of judges. It is well known for its precedence
06 Feb 2015 07:41
EDITORIAL: Better Access To Legal Services Good For Justice

The case of R v Sussex Justices, Ex parte McCarthy ([1924] is a leading English case on the impartiality and recusal of judges. It is well known for its precedence in establishing the principle that the mere appearance of bias is sufficient to overturn a judicial decision. It also led to the maxim: “Not only must justice be done; it must also be seen to be done.”

A commentator once said: “If the fairness is seen to work, it will give the good hope. If the guilty go without censure, the innocent will suffer.

If there are concrete, believable, consequences for evil deeds, good people can try to be good, and otherwise conscienceless people will be restrained from doing wrong, understanding that there are consequences of every action. Can society rely on goodwill alone? Not in this imperfect world.

This is true indeed. That is why we need checks and balances to ensure that fairness and equity are accorded to all citizens of Fiji and others who live here and visit. It’s a true mark of democracy.

In our legal system or jurisprudence, another maxim, that one is considered innocent until proven guilty, is an essential pillar of our justice system. The burden of proof is on the prosecution to prove beyond reasonable doubt that a person charged with an offence is guilty.

By the same token, the accused must be given the opportunity to defend himself or herself if justice is seen to be done.

Unfortunately, some are denied this opportunity because of their financial circumstances. They simply cannot afford a lawyer.

That is why Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama’s announcement that his Government planned to give low-income earners better access to legal services is welcome.

Over the past few years, Government steadily increased funding to the Legal Aid Commission. From $800,000 in 2012, to $2 million in 2013, to a record $4.4 million last year.

Mr Bainimarama said this was the largest allocation for legal aid in Fiji’s history and they had made the same amount available in 2015.

Legal aid is common in many countries. It only becomes effective when lawyers taking up cases treat them with the same standards and intensity like other high profile cases. No one should be denied a fair trial under any circumstances.

The Legal Aid scheme protects people from being coerced into admitting an offence they did not commit. Both the prosecution and defence lawyers must put their act together in the interests of justice. An accused person must be able to conduct a vigorous and thorough defence.

The prosecution must produce compelling evidence to prove the guilt of a person. This will avoid the wrongful conviction of people for offences they did not commit.

Among the notable cases of this type was the case of Rupeni Naisoro and Sainivalati Ramuwai. They were wrongly convicted in 2007 of murder and sentenced to life imprisonment. But the Fiji Court of Appeal quashed their conviction in 2012.

The rights of an accused person are guaranteed under the Bill of Rights in the Constitution. Section 14, sub-section (1) (d) says if an accused person cannot afford a lawyer he or she is “to be given the services of a legal practitioner under a scheme for legal aid by the Legal Aid Commission, and to be informed promptly of his right.”

The rights help to ensure that the accused person is given a fair trial.

With the Bainamarama Government’s help, people will get better access to legal services in the interests of justice.

 

Feedback: nemani.delaibatiki@fijisun.com.fj

 




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