This is part two of a two-part seriesabout the Legal Aid Commission.
For the first time in Fiji’s history, the First Hour Procedure was introduced.
The First Hour Procedure is an initiative of the Fijian Government and from 1st November, 2016 till 30th April, 2018, the Legal Aid Commission has assisted 2135 persons which includes males and females as well as juvenile offenders.
This means that a person arrested will be briefed of his or her rights by a Legal Aid lawyer at no cost.
Unfortunately, as the Director Legal Aid Shahin Ali points out, the commission did not receive any assistance from the private bar in implementing this although members of the Fiji Law Society were part of the training undertaken in understanding the procedure.
No private lawyer offered to meet up with arrested persons and brief them of their rights without any payment, unless it is a client known to them.
Eventually the Fiji Police Force and the Legal Aid Commission took the lead role in having this initiative implemented in Fiji.
This itself was a milestone achievement because never before have the Police and Legal Aid joined forces for the benefit of our fellow Fijians in safeguarding the rights of suspects in custody.
On 1st November 2016, the Legal Aid Commission and the Fiji Police Force took the lead role in the actual implementation of this initiative which was aimed at ensuring that suspects arrested on suspicion of committing a crime were provided a lawyer from the Legal Aid Commission for purposes of providing legal advice and assistance as per Section 13 of the Constitution.
“The initial pilot period was to run for a term of six months. However, when the five justice sector stakeholders met again in May 2017, we decided to extend the pilot for another term of 12 months. The pilot is still on-going and there are no plans to stop this service,” Mr Ali said.
This initiative also aims to get all stakeholders to work together in collaboration to address issues such as allegations of Police brutality when arresting and questioning suspects in custody.
Trainings have been held where Police officers have been informed of the consequences such actions can have on the case before the Court if the allegations are proved.
This service is available on a 24 hours seven days a week basis where lawyers entirely from the Legal Aid Commission are rostered to attend to calls from the Police.
As of May 2017, the stakeholders agreed to allow the Client Information Officers/paralegals from the Legal Aid Commission to assist with the First Hour Procedure.
So how it works is that when a suspect is arrested and brought to the Central Police Station or CID, the Police would make a call to a dedicated phone line to the Legal Aid Commission and a lawyer on duty would be dispatched to attend to the matter within one hour of that call being made.
Mr Ali has revealed that so far the Legal Aid Commission has not defaulted on these calls and have always attended to the calls within that hour proving a 100 per cent attendance rate and compliance.
The commission should not be seen as competition to private legal practitioners. If anything, people now have a choice whereas previously they did not.
The clients that the commission assists are considered impoverished, hence they would not be able to afford the services of a private legal practitioner, or they would have sought financial assistance through family members or other means to pay for the fees of private lawyers.
The commission should definitely not be seen as competing against private practitioners.
If persons have any queries or concerns about any of the services provided by the commission, you are encouraged to contact them on 3311195 or email them on [email protected]galaid.org.fj.
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