Caribbean countries endorse new measures to improve access to justice at Commonwealth Law Ministers meeting

Ministers and senior officials from the Commonwealth Caribbean have endorsed a new set of measures to improve people’s access to justice.

The measures resulted from four-day deliberations among Commonwealth law ministers at their biennial meeting in Zanzibar, Tanzania, this week. They were also guided by input from diverse stakeholders, including people with disabilities, civil society representatives and leading innovators in the legal sector.

Under these measures, ministers resolved to ramp up efforts to remove barriers to access to justice and address the legal needs of all citizens.

Key provisions include improved access to justice for people with disabilities, a model law on virtual assets, a new action plan to protect women from online violence and a proposal to eliminate gender-discriminatory legislation.

Ministers also welcomed an array of new Commonwealth legal resources, including a mediation guide, a small claims court app for dispute resolution and a database for cooperation on criminal matters.

Additionally, they adopted the Commonwealth guidelines on treating electronic evidence in criminal proceedings, designed to offer member countries a framework to craft national legislation.

To support the implementation, ministers requested the Commonwealth Law Ministers Action Group to report progress at the next meeting.

The package summarises the outcome statement issued by ministers, representing one-third of humanity, at the end of their meeting on 8 February 2024.

Speaking after the meeting, the Commonwealth Secretary-General, The Rt Hon Patricia Scotland KC, said the measures were “absolutely critical” because two-thirds of the world’s population lack meaningful access to justice.

“Our discussions have been purposeful, our decisions have been meaningful, and our powerful new consensus allows us to take the next giant steps towards equal access to justice in modernised legal systems across our wonderful Commonwealth. We leave Zanzibar with a powerful mandate allowing us to take the next decisive steps to ensure justice for all, which is the lived experience of every one of the 2.5 billion people in our Commonwealth.”

In their statement, ministers recognised the Secretariat’s tech-driven justice solutions and its work on artificial intelligence as important interventions in improving access to legal information and transforming justice delivery in today’s complex world.

The Secretariat also presented several papers in energy and extractives, including a carbon tax model law and an oil and gas decommissioning guide, which leverage legislation to tackle climate change and deliver a just transition.

The United Republic of Tanzania hosted the meeting from 4 to 8 March 2024. The meeting was chaired by Hon. Ambassador Dr Pindi H. Chana, the country’s Minister of Constitutional and Legal Affairs, who commended the substantive outcomes.

Officiating the closing ceremony on 8 March 2024, H.E. Hussein Mwinyi, President of Zanzibar, said:

“I am pleased to note that the meeting has recorded a number of achievements, which challenge us to undertake reforms in an effort to ensure that justice is accessible to all.

“I am aware of efforts that the Commonwealth countries have taken to shape its agenda on the rule of law and access to justice. It is high time that you made the same efforts on access to justice through digitisation.”

The outcomes from the meeting will shape the agenda for the upcoming Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Samoa later this year.

The Government of Fiji will host the next meeting in February 2026.

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