Mary Francis bemoans lack of equal access to justice

Outspoken human rights campaigner, Mary Francis, is concerned about equal access to justice in Saint Lucia.

Francis is the Coordinator of the National Centre for Legal Aid and Human Rights.

Equal access to justice was highlighted during the opening here this week of the new law year.

“I have been, for the past  almost sixteen years so,  lamenting and calling upon the authorities until eventually we had the legal aid authority which is very limited in its capacity to provide access to justice,” Francis said in an interview with the Times.

The Coordinator of the National Centre for Legal Aid and Human Rights asserted that the problem of equal access to justice in Saint Lucia offends democracy.

Francis told the Times that among other things, democracy means equality before the law.

“Where persons don’t have access it means this equality has been denied and this is an offence against democracy,” the Attorney at Law asserted.

She said it is up to those who have created the legal system and have a stake in ensuring the sustainability of the justice system to ensure that there is equal access to justice for all persons despite their economic circumstances.

“We as lawyers must assist,” Francis observed.

During the opening of the law year Attorney General, Kim St Rose, had said that high legal costs are affecting accessibility to justice.

Many Francis noted that the private legal system must operate in a way that ensures its viability.

However she told the Times that the state has a constitutional duty to assist since the constitution guarantees a right to legal representation.

“The duty is imposed upon the state to the similar extent that you have health – I mean the state provides health, education, why not justice?” Francis declared.

She was of the opinion that equal access to justice should be given the same priority as health and education.

“We need to have a more functional legal aid authority or system provided by the state,” Francis said, adding that what was set up  in 2011 should be broadened and deepened.

She observed that it is the “little man” who always suffers from a lack of access to justice.

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