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Improving access to justice in Vanuatu

By Sania Alamate and Osanna Faataape

In September 2019, we travelled with nine fellow QUT law and justice students to Port Vila, Vanuatu for our International Legal Placement. There, we worked with the Pacific Islands Legal Information Institute (#PacLII) and legal clinic students from the Emalus Campus of the University of the South Pacific (#USP).

Over the placement, we explored current legal issues facing vulnerable communities in Vanuatu, including the LGBTIQA+ community, women and those affected by climate change.

We saw that one of the barriers to accessing justice in the Pacific Islands is the inaccessibility of legal information. To help alleviate this, we created subject libraries for the Pacific Legal Information Institute (PacLII) website. PacLII is an online database containing legislation, cases, and other secondary materials for Pacific Island countries (like #AustLII, but for the Pacific).

The subject libraries that were created covered the areas of family law, and employment and labour law for multiple jurisdictions including Vanuatu, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Fiji, Cook Islands, Tonga, Papua New Guinea and Kiribati. Osanna created the subject library for Samoa, and Sania for the Solomon Islands. As access to reliable internet is a pervasive issue throughout Vanuatu, these subject libraries should streamline the legal research process for anyone looking for legal information.

Legal databases are convoluted and difficult to navigate, so it was really meaningful to know that we had a hand in creating a more convenient way for the people of the islands to access legal information and proactively put the knowledge we’ve gained into action.

Other highlights of the trip included a visit to the Australian High Commission to discuss Australia’s significant investment into climate and disaster resilience. We were also able to gain insight into the legal and institutional responses to climate change in Vanuatu thanks to #Oxfam.

This international placement was an invaluable opportunity for us to learn how access to justice issues exist in different jurisdictions and compare these to Australia.

As Pacific Islanders, our placement was definitely one that held added personal significance for us. Being able to help with the Pacific’s online legal database and experience the South Pacific’s learning hub for future lawyers really helped to remind us that as future Pasifika lawyers, we play a vital role in ensuring our people have adequate access to justice.


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