Empowering persons with disabilities through the Access to Justice Assessment

Posted October 3, 2018

Participants discuss their interactions with the justice sector at a focus group discussion with UNDP and the Hague Institute for Innovation of Law. (Photo: UNDP/Joeli Uluinayau)

Suva, Fiji
 - Raising an infant can be hard work at the best of times. Doing it as a single mother changing diapers, managing breast feeding, and sleepless nights are even more physically and emotionally exhausting without a partner’s support.

But the challenge of raising an infant as a single mother, while also deaf and fighting a pitched court battle over custody of your child against the father and his family, is nearly incomprehensible. Yet this is exactly the situation faced by one of the participants who shared her story in a focus group discussion with members of the disabled community convened by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

As part of the Access to Justice Assessment being carried out under the European Union-funded Fiji Access to Justice Project, the UNDP Pacific Office in Fiji is convening over 18 similar focus groups around the country to gain insight into how citizens view access to justice and identify the challenges they face.

The assessment, which is being carried this year, will collect and analyse inputs shared by focus groups and the results will serve as the foundation for an evidence-based approach to justice reform and contribute to overall good governance.  

The UNDP Pacific Office in Fiji, is carrying out the Assessment with The Hague Institute for Innovation of Law (HiiL), employing a mixed methodological approach, including a nationwide randomized public survey, expert surveys, focus groups discussions, expert group discussions, and documentary review. The approach ensures that strong quantitative and qualitative data are gathered, with a participatory gender analysis woven into the process.

The Access to Justice Assessment will also inform the detail of future project activities. It will identify priority access to justice issues, and provide recommendations for government, civil society, international stakeholders, and the Fijian citizenry, to address these identified issues in line with both citizen and institutional needs.

Team Leader at HiiL, Dr Martin Gramatikov said, “the assessment provides the opportunity for UNDP and HiiL to talk to the people of Fiji about their experiences with the law using a ‘bottom-up justice’ approach, and to ask people about situations and challenges they face in everyday life where they would seek legal advice, such as disputes, disagreements, and which dispute resolution mechanisms are used – and any challenges faced in accessing those mechanisms”.

During the focus group for persons with disabilities in Suva, participants with a range of disabilities recounted the barriers they face in seeking access to justice, including social stigma, the inability to physically access some facilities, and difficulties working through Sign Language interpreters during court proceedings.

According to  the Programme Manager of the UNDP Pacific Office in Fiji, Rule of Law, Access to Justice and Human Rights Programme, Andrew Harrington, “the Access to Justice Assessment will provide an opportunity for the citizens of Fiji to voice the obstacles they face in accessing justice, and also gauge citizen perception of the justice system – in particular logging the experience and needs of the most vulnerable groups in society, including women, youth, the LGBTIQ community, and persons with disabilities.

He added, “This comprehensive approach will enable targeted policy and programming to be developed by the judiciary to better serve the public and improve access to justice for Fiji.”

The Fiji Access to Justice Project is funded by the European Union and runs from 2016 to 2020. The Access to Justice Assessment will be completed in 2018. This project is implemented in partnership with the Judicial Department and the Legal Aid Commission to improve access to justice for impoverished and vulnerable groups, empower people to access legal rights and services and strengthen key justice institutions to deliver justice services.

The Fiji Government has endorsed the Sustainable Development Goals, which highlight the importance of access to justice as an enabler for development and an outcome of development. Goal 16 commits Fiji to promote a peaceful and inclusive society for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels. Goal 5 commits the government to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls. The Fiji Access to Justice Project supports the achievement of both goals.

For more information or media interviews please contact:

Jone Tuiipelehaki Raqauqau, Communications Associate, Effective Governance Team, UNDP Pacific Office in Fiji, tel: +679 3227 552 or email: jone.raqauqau@undp.org

Andrew Harrington, Programme Manager, Rule of Law, Access to Justice and Human Rights, tel: +679 3227 701, email: andrew.harrington@undp.org