17 May 2019
Solomon Islands: Looking into future justice programmes
Having previously worked as policeman in Northern Rhodesia, (Zambia), Swaziland, and the New Hebrides (Vanuatu) and familiar with the law systems in Lesotho and Sierra Leone, and to some extent the administration of the law in the New Territories in Hong Kong in the 60s and 70s, I can say from personal experience the value the people had in the traditional authorities, essentially village and community chiefs and elders (Nduna’s) in Africa in the resolving of local disputes and minor breaches of the law, including in the former New Hebrides, adultery cases.
Against such a personal background and experience of traditional justice, I was interested to read in the local media of the recent Compressive Access to Justice Study, conducted by the Ministry of Justice and Legal Affairs with support from the UNDP.
I read in the paper that the Access to Justice Project captured more than 2,600 local Solomon Islanders’ needs and perceptions of the justice system.
Quoting from what was reported in the local media following the survey it mentioned:
“Initial findings from a national survey of access to justice show that citizens commonly rely on traditional authorities to resolve disputes and want stronger links to the formal justice system.
“The study provides data from women, men, youth and people with disability, primarily in rural settings, across all provinces. The findings and recommendations will inform policy priorities and future justice sector programmes.
“This report, these initial findings shine a light on our sector,” Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Justice and Legal Affairs Ethel Sigimanu told government and civil society representatives on Wednesday at a validation workshop held at Mendana Hotel.
“Together we must act to make sure that all Solomon Islanders have access to justice no matter who they are or where they live,” she said.
“One of the study’s key findings was the continued reliance on the traditional justice system throughout Solomon Islands. About 66 percent of respondents said the most common way to handle disputes in the community is through the village chief, followed by church leaders and police.
“According to the survey, Solomon Islanders with a disability were nearly twice as likely to be very unsatisfied with justice services as those without a disability. Focus groups, key informant interviews and institutional data supplemented the survey findings. Insights from victims of domestic violence, prison remandees and other vulnerable groups also helped to illustrate justice across the country.”
“Access to justice is about poverty, “It is about discrimination. It is about human rights,” said UNDP Solomon Islands Country Manager, Anna Chernyshova, was reported to have said.
Ms. Chernyshova, also reportedly, emphasized that Solomon Islands’ commitment to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), means providing access to justice for all and building effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels by 2030.
I believe the Australian Government continues its support, with funding, access to justice and deserves thanks.
At the close of the recent Access to Justice Study, Ms Chermyshova commented, “We look forward to continuing this partnership and working together to turn initial findings to recommendations and from recommendations on a page to concrete action and improvements across the Solomon Islands.”
Few, could disagree with such sentiments.