Law Professor Helps Organise Legal Aid Conference for South Pacific Islands and Build Capacity for Paralegals in Fiji
Acting Director of the Centre for Socio-Legal Studies at UKZN, Professor David McQuoid-Mason assisted the Fiji Legal Aid Commission to organise the first Pacific Regional Legal Aid Conference for the island states of Fiji, the Federation of Micronesia, Palau, the Marshall Islands, Kiribati, Tuvalu, Samoa, the Solomon Islands, Tonga and Vanuatu. The conference was held in Fiji from 21 to 23 August.
He also conducted a three-day workshop on the first hour procedure (whereby the police have to contact the Legal Aid Commission to send a paralegal and/or a legal aid lawyer to assist the arrested person within an hour of their arrest if they need legal aid), and public legal awareness for paralegals employed by the Fiji Legal Aid Commission from 25 to 27 August.
McQuoid-Mason gave the key note address at the conference on Leaving Nobody Behind: The UN Principles and Guidelines on Legal Aid in Criminal Justice Systems and the provision of legal aid in remote rural areas where there are no lawyers. He also presented papers on Street Law and The Role of paralegals in legal aid services. McQuoid-Mason chaired the final session when the participants were divided into commissions to discuss quality control in legal aid services; the use of paralegals in legal aid services; establishing regional and local legal aid offices and introducing the first hour procedure. He also drafted the final conference declaration for adoption by the delegates.
The paralegal training involved McQuoid-Mason educating participants about the use of Street Law-type interactive teaching methods which included the first hour procedure and educating the public about the law and legal aid. Different interactive teaching methods were demonstrated on topics as the need for laws, domestic violence and the powers of the police to arrest versus the rights of persons arrested. The participants learnt how to prepare an interactive lesson, and then presented their lessons on a variety of relevant topics, which were critiqued by McQuoid-Mason and the other participants.
McQuoid-Mason said that he originally suggested that Fiji host a Pacific Regional Legal Aid Conference when he drafted the strategic plan for the Fiji Legal Aid Commission in order to introduce participants to the United Nations Principles and Guidelines on Legal Aid in Criminal Proceedings and best practice in the region:
‘The Conference was designed so that the 11 islands could share their experiences and learn from one another regarding how poor and marginalised people can access free legal assistance. Particular emphasis was placed on the first hour procedure piloted in Fiji and how the islands could support one another to promote access to justice and the rule of law in the region.’