ONLY A commitment to moral and ethical standards facilitated by a bar association can equip lawyers to promote stability in the South Pacific, said Ross Ray, president of the Law Council of Australia.
Speaking at the inaugural South Pacific Law Conference and Fiji Law Society Annual Convention last week, Ray used his address to outline the legal framework of protocols for Australian and New Zealand involvement in the South Pacific.
Ray said that regardless of the strength of the rule of law it was up to lawyers to safeguard its application “by advocating for measures that maintain and improve access to justice and legal representation”.
The forum brought together legal practitioners from 11 South Pacific nations, as well as a number of prominent Australians, to develop the links essential for beneficial, cross-border relationships.
Ray said that the legal profession could bring assistance to the security of the region only if it was linked to the relevant supporting bodies and institutions.
He said that one of these institutions, the South Pacific Bar Secretariat, had the potential to provide the necessary support structure and become the leading representative body for the legal profession in the region. “It’s no small thing for me to state that,” he said.
He said that any attempts would surely fail unless the country itself, not the sponsor, was the “owner” of the program. A sponsoring company could be only a facilitator, said Ray, by offering a flexible program that could be developed locally and provided the essential expertise and resources to drive the program’s management.
“Little improvement to law and order will be derived from programs to strengthen the legal profession if institutions intrinsically linked to the practice of law are not in place,” he said.
Ray addressed the fragility of programs aimed at providing legal assistance, noting that a wrong move could jeopardise its objectives and even threaten a country’s security. The lesson, he said, could be seen in the ASEAN endeavour to establish a regional human rights body.
“ASEAN entered at the wrong level and sought a political mandate too early. As a result the initiative lost momentum and years were lost as facilitators struggled with ideological considerations,” he said.
Isireli Fa from the Fiji Law Society also used the conference as an opportunity to speak out about the current political situation in Fiji. Fa said that any political parties involved in the disposal of the mainly ethnic Fijian SDL government should not take part in next year’s general election.