THE launch of a new mobile platform by the Public Solicitor’s Office (PSO) means that over 460,000 mobile users in Solomon Islands, representing 66.3 percent of the population, will be able to access legal information at their own convenience from their own communities.
The Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD) platform is accessible on basic mobile phones at no cost to the user and contains legal information on a range of areas including family, land and property, civil, criminal, employment, environment and succession.
Users can access the service by dialing *776# and navigate their way to the required information. The content is available in both English or Pidgin to all mobile phone users regardless of the mobile network they use thanks to a private sector partnership brokered by the Access to Justice Project and the two mobile service operators, Our Telekom and B Mobile.
“Through this new USSD platform, those who are marginalised due to geographical and economic barriers, especially women, youth and people with disabilities have enhanced access to legal information. In addition, with the expansion of our presence in the provinces through new satellite offices, ongoing community awareness programmes undertaken by the provincial paralegals and community legal advocates, and the recent launch of our website, people now have multiple mechanisms to access legal information and learn of the services we can offer them at the PSO,” said Public Solicitor, George Gray.
“Access to justice is more than just access to lawyers and the courts. It is a component of the rule of law, comprised of a number of elements which at its core means that individuals and communities with legal needs know where to go for help, obtain the help they need and move through a system that offers procedural, substantive and expeditious justice,” said Gray.
A 2019 Access to Justice study which identified and quantified the justice needs and issues related to access to justice in Solomon Islands revealed that women reported lower levels of awareness of different justice institutions and were less confident in the ability of those institutions to solve disputes.
“The Australian government is committed to supporting the PSO and the larger justice sector in strengthening its capacity so that justice problems and barriers are addressed and people’s access to justice related information and services are enhanced,” said Australian High Commission Governance Counsellor, Andrew Elborn.
He added, “By accessing the justice information they need when a legal problem first emerges, people will be better informed in their decision making when choosing a path of recourse. The PSO’s efforts in ensuring that every mobile user has access to this level of information will go a long way to addressing issues of inequality and we congratulate the PSO on this milestone.”
The UNDP Solomon Islands Deputy Resident Representative and Country Manager, Berdi Berdiyev highlighted how mobile technologies offer a new means for empowering citizens.
“The simplicity of this USSD platform, which requires only a basic mobile phone with text messaging capacity, greatly bridges the information gap and offers greater independence for users including women and vulnerable groups who can access the platform in the privacy of their own homes. The efforts of the PSO to enhance access to legal information and services through the USSD and other mechanisms has a consequential impact on the efficiency of the PSO operations, allowing lawyers to focus on technical legal advice and representation,” said Berdiyev.
He added, “The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are cross-cutting and ambitious and require a shift in how we work in partnership. We are appreciative of the partnership between Our Telekom, B Mobile and the Australian Government in ensuring that this collaborative effort results in a great outcome for all Solomon Islanders.”
The launch of the USSD Platform was hosted by the youth groups from the Burns Creek community on Tuesday (7 June 2022). The launch also showcased a performance by members of the Dreamcast theatre group which highlighted key issues communities face and linked how communities can use the platform to address such issues.
The USSD platform was made possible through the UNDP Access to Justice Project which is implemented by UNDP in partnership with the Ministry of Justice and Legal Affairs through the PSO with support from the Australian Government.