Sharing good practice on access to legal support

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Officials from justice and law enforcement agencies in Thailand have discussed ways to bolster access to legal support for detained persons in a webinar organised by the APT.

Convened in partnership with the Department of Rights and Liberties Protection (DRLP), within Thailand’s Ministry of Justice, the webinar was a practical conversation ked by the Director of the Fijian Legal Aid Commission, Mr. Shahin Ali.

Mr Ali described the Commission’s work and its distinctive ‘Access to Justice Project’, which empowers people, especially those in situations of vulnerability, to access their legal rights and services as well as strengthening service delivery by the justice institutions.

A key factor in the success of the Commission’s efforts, Mr Ali said, was a commitment to finding creative solutions to practical challenges, especially when faced with unforeseen circumstances.

Some examples shared by Mr Ali included:

  • the Commission’s Duty Solicitor Scheme, which waives the standard eligibility means test to provide immediate emergency assistance in certain cases
  • the use of videoconference technologies to facilitate meetings between lawyers and clients, in response to restricted prison visits due to COVID-19
  • the Commission’s use of paralegals for certain non-defence-related duties.

The significance of vetting the quality of available legal services, including by means of performance reviews, trial observations and, where needed, disciplinary investigations and measures, was another topic of discussion. 

The webinar brought together Thai authorities and legal professionals, including representatives from the Lawyer’s Council, the National Human Rights Commission, the Department of Corrections and the Royal Thai Police.

Representatives from the Ministry of Justice DRLP and the Thai Lawyer’s Council explained their role as primary legal aid providers in Thailand. They also restated their commitment to facilitating more widespread and effective access to legal counsel in the country, particularly for persons in situations of vulnerability.

Participants also discussed the well-recognised need to ensure the financial and operational independence of any legal aid scheme, as well as the importance of building confidence and robust cooperation between the relevant justice institutions and practitioners, including law enforcement officers, prosecutors, and judges.

Ms Shazeera Zawawi, representing the APT, said she hoped the webinar would be the first in a series of technical exchanges between Thailand and Fiji on strengthening access to legal support for those held in detention.

“We know from experience that the impact of collaborations like this, particularly during trying times, cannot be underestimated,” she said.

The webinar is part of a three-year project by the APT to support torture prevention efforts and promote custody safeguards in Thailand.