Everyone should have equal access to justice – Chief Justice
September 27, 2016
Everyone should have equal access to justice – Chief Justice

Janice Pereira, chief justice of the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court (ECSC) has stressed the importance of equal access to justice for everyone.

Speaking via a live simulcast last Tuesday from St Lucia at the opening of the 2016-2017 law term, Pereira stated that the concept of access to justice and access to the court is fundamentally rooted in the observance and the protection of the rule of law, {{more}}which she says is the foundation of any democratic society.

“Equal justice and equal access to justice must not be allowed to become the purview of the rich or the powerful for then it would not be considered justice, far less equal access to justice,” she added.

According to Pereira, the struggle to achieve equal justice may be viewed as one of the highest ideals consistently pursued by any legal system grounded in the acknowledgement, respect and observance of basic human rights.

She further stated that one of the vital principles of the rule of law is that laws should be accessible, clear, precise and open to public scrutiny.

“The court must be accessible, affordable and disputes resolved without excessive delay,” said Pereira.

Additionally, she stated that access to law runs deeper than just the improvement of an individual or an entity’s accessibility to the court or their ability to gain legal representation.

“There can be no adequate access to justice if persons are unable to utilize the justice system because it is physically or financially inaccessible, where citizens are unaware of their legal rights…. or where the legal system is weak,” she stressed.

The Chief Justice further stated that it is not possible for there to be equal access to justice where discriminatory laws, rules or practices insulate and permit gender biases to persist, or which allow the oppression of the weak, the poor and the vulnerable.

“Access to justice and equal justice therefore occupies a broad spectrum along an ever evolving continuum shaped by our social norms and values which themselves are in a constant state of evolution,” she said.

According to Pereira, access to justice therefore includes legal protection, legal awareness, legal aid and enforcement and all the initiatives that are geared towards ensuring that all persons can have their voices heard, exercise their rights, challenge discrimination and hold decision makers accountable.

She said it supports peace in a society by giving an individual an alternative to vigilante justice and violence in resolving disputes, adding that it sustains the rule of law.

“What use is the rule of law if there is no access to justice?” asked Pereira.

During remarks, Justice Brian Cottle said that the justice system is not a cloistered virtue, but something that the ordinary citizen of St Vincent and the Grenadines must feel comfortable in accessing for the redress of any of their grievances.

Cottle told the law fraternity here that the system would not achieve its aims unless the participants embrace their roles and responsibilities. He said the bar has a crucial role to play, as they stand as the guardians of the rights of the citizens.

According to him, the presiding judges would be leaning heavily on the bar this year and would also expect the support and assistance that they are accustomed to. (AS)