ALL Solomon Islanders should have equal access to justice no matter their gender, age, disability or remoteness of their village.
This was highlighted by the Permanent Secretary for the Ministry of Justice and Legal Affairs, Paul Mae during a final review of the justice sector’s draft Gender Equality and Social Inclusion (GESI) Strategy, Wednesday.
Improving access to justice for all Solomon Islanders is a crucial initiative and the ministry is looking forward to working closely with the wider justice sector to achieve it, Dr Mae said.
“The justice sector has an important role to play in contributing to the national effort to improve gender equality and social inclusion, especially by making sure all Solomon Islanders are equal when it comes to accessing justice,” he said.
“At the heart of these efforts is our belief in fairness. After All making sure there is fairness in our society is a fundamental purpose and function of the justice system,” he added.
Dr Mae added that he hoped that in his time as PS the strategy would lead to some real and practical changes.
“Some of these are quite simple. For example, putting in place an easy to use system to make sure that our justice sector is easily accessible for anyone with disabilities,” he said.
“Already there are NGOs who provide valuable help to the community in some of these areas, but there are steps we can take to make sure that this help can easily be accessed by anyone using the justice system.”
A Gender Equality and Social Inclusion (GESI) Audit carried out two years ago and endorsed by Cabinet, had helped to identify both the achievements as well as the areas needing further improvement, Dr Mae said.
“Over the past few years, an increasing number of women have become lawyers and magistrates, and more recently the High Court has appointed the first Solomon Islander female judge to the bench.
“We have also seen other positive developments in recent years, such as the enactment of the Family Protection Act and reforms to our sexual offences law – to make sure that there are better legal protections for victims and survivors of gender and sexual-based violence.”
“But it also highlighted the way that our court processes and court environments can sometimes negatively affect victims and vulnerable witnesses in their efforts to seek justice. “
“We also know that more can be done to improve the justice system’s understanding of, and approach to, young people who come into contact with the criminal justice system.”
The GESI Audit had also exposed the difficulties people with disabilities have when trying to access legal services, he said.
All these findings had confirmed the value of developing a GESI Strategy, that could set out clear steps for improving our justice system and ensuring that it caters for the needs of all our people in the Solomon Islands.
The draft strategy is due to go to the Justice Sector Consultative Committee nest week, and then to Cabinet.
Dr Mae thanked the Australian Government for its support for both the GESI audit and the development of a GESI strategy and in particular, the resources made available for this through the Solomon Islands Justice Program.
“I would also like to thank the many people working in the justice sector, as well as NGOs, who have contributed their time, information and ideas to the audit and development of this strategy.”
Dr Mae said everyone who believed fairness should support the work of the justice sector in its ongoing efforts to build an effective, representative, accessible justice system available to all Solomon Islanders.