A low lawyer rate in Papua New Guinea is causing access to justice issues, while in other South Pacific regions many lawyers have no understanding of their financial services legislation obligations.
The findings come in a new report released by the South Pacific Lawyers’ Association as part of the first comprehensive study into the needs of developing law societies and bar associations in the South Pacific region.
The survey reveals a number of findings that the SPLA will use to assist the South Pacific law societies and bar associations to improve the quality of services they provide to members and the general community, said SPLA Chair Ross Ray QC.
“Specifically the research gives an insight into the legal profession in the South Pacific region and highlights the current status of legal services and resources available.
“For example Papua New Guinea, with a population of over six million people, has only 591 lawyers – the research suggests this low lawyer to population ratio is common within the South Pacific indicating an obvious access to justice issue for the region.
“This issue, combined with a lack of infrastructure, resources and training means the long term sustainability of the profession will be compromised unless immediate action is taken.”
The survey also revealed no substantive review or reform of legal profession legislation and regulation had taken place in most countries in the South Pacific in over 20 years.
“In particular, there are currently no statutory provisions to empower any peak legal professional body in the region to conduct regular audits of legal practitioners.
“In all jurisdictions surveyed, lawyers indicated they have never received formal notification of their obligations under financial services legislation nor training in how to meet their obligations under such regimes,” Mr Ray said.
All of the needs identified from the Survey have informed the development of nine recommendations which are intended as a starting point to the development of practical measures to assist in strengthening the peak legal professional associations in the South Pacific.
“The Executive of the SPLA encourages governments, legal professional bodies and international organisations to engage with each other to further develop strategies and practical measures to enable peak legal professional bodies to provide effective support to the legal profession in the South Pacific region,” Mr Ray said.
The Needs Evaluation Survey for South Pacific Lawyer Associations is available online.