The long-term sustainability of the legal profession in the South Pacific region is at risk, according to a new survey.
The South Pacific Lawyers' Association (SPLA) today (25 October) released the findings of a new study into the needs of developing law societies and bar associations in the South Pacific.
Revealing the access to justice issues and lack of infrastructure, resources and training available in the region, the survey has led to nine recommendations aimed at developing practical measures to support the region's profession.
"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 support to the legal profession in the South Pacific region," said SPLA chair Ross Ray QC.
Revealing that Papua New Guinea, with a population of over six million people, has only 591 lawyers, the study uncovered the significant access to justice issues in the region.
"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," said Ray.
Ray added that the access to justice issues, combined with a lack of infrastructure, resources and training, means the long-term sustainability of the profession in the South Pacific will be compromised "unless immediate action is taken".
The research also revealed that no substantive review or reform of legislation and regulation of the profession had taken place in most South Pacific countries 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," said Ray.
"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."