TWELVE Community Legal Advocates (CLAs) who are based in the provinces of Malaita (North and South), Western (Seghe, Shortlands, Vella la Vella and Kolombangara) and Temotu (Santa Cruz and Lomlom) have now fine-tuned their skills in basic law, legal rights, awareness raising, mediation and problem solving following the conclusion of their nine-day refresher training this week.
The work of the CLAs has benefitted over 9000 individuals whose access to the formal legal system is limited by their physical access, awareness and high costs borne by both individuals in accessing services and by government in supplying sufficient quantity and quality of service delivery to the outlying provinces.
In their community awareness programmes, the CLAs provide information on the Public Solicitor’s Office (PSO).
The PSO is the equivalent of Legal Aid Office in other countries and provides free legal representation and advice to those that need it.
Some of the usual questions asked by community members in remote locations include, can we report a crime to the PSO? Does the Police have the same responsibilities as the PSO? Does the PSO represent both parties (the offender and the victim) in any issues?
The training which ended on Tuesday 30 March, was organized by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) through the Access Justice Project, which is supported by the Australian Government in partnership with the Ministry of Justice and Legal Affairs through the PSO.
“By definition, CLAs are grassroot advocates who use the knowledge and skills built from training such as this to seek concrete solutions from formal justice institutions,” said Access to Justice Project Manager, Grace Kiernan.
“As part of their primary role, the CLAs provide a PSO presence at the rural community level, linking the community to the formal justice system which benefits those most marginalized.”
She added, “Depending on a given case, they apply tools and skills which include mediation, education, advocacy and referrals, to justice providers and the PSO as a public facing justice institution of the Solomon Islands Government.”
“The result of their work so far, has highlighted their practical effectiveness in remote locations underscoring the equality of all persons and the respect for human dignity, regardless of location, family, economic and/or social circumstances,” said Kiernan.
The work of the CLAs addresses specific gaps highlighted in the 2019 Access to Justice Study, which confirmed that justice in the Solomon Islands is largely characterized by the parallel existence of formal and customary systems. In addition to being relatively inaccessible for those outside urban centres, unsurprisingly much of the formal justice system is also poorly understood by most Solomon Islanders.
“I decided to be a CLA because I felt the need for awareness on the formal option for justice,” said Temotu Province CLA, Mark Liko. Temotu province is more than 600km from Honiara making it the most remote province in Solomon Islands.
“Through our work, people now have greater clarity on the range of services that the PSO provides and thus are now more confident to submit any issues of legal concern to the relevant authorities.”
The CLA for Western Province, Francesca O’Grady also involves her family to assist in her awareness sessions.
“My family has really supported me in this role, especially my husband who travels with me to communities and assists with logistical matters,” said O’Grady.
She added, “I found the refresher training useful for me because I continue to pick up tips on how to better communicate with communities and provide clarity on the different roles of the justice stakeholders.”
The CLAs now return to their respective communities with an enhanced appreciation for their role to reach the furthest behind first.