The Public Solicitor’s Office (PSO) is working tirelessly to ensure communities have increased knowledge of the law and that alleged offenders across Vanuatu get the highest standard of representation.

This was conveyed by Jane Tari, the second highest official at the PSO and the first woman to reach such a senior position, who has voiced her commitment to the office’s mission to provide quality professional legal services to economically disadvantaged people across Vanuatu.

Tari said knowing the law helps everyone make good choices that benefit both individuals and community.

“And of course, at the PSO we work a lot with alleged offenders as we believe everyone has the right to a fair hearing. Anywhere. Not just in court. Everyone needs to be heard and we never want to see the wrong person put in jail. It is just not right,” she said.

Ms Tari, who hails from Ambae has witnessed violence and crime in her community. She said her personal motivation to increase access to justice in rural areas aligns perfectly with the values of the PSO. She has been with the PSO for over fourteen years, spending more than a decade managing the PSO Santo Office, which catered to TORBA, SANMA and PENAMA provinces.

“For me, working in a rural setting where you see a lot of gaps in the services, has been one of the motivations for doing this work and contributing to improving the system. I was fortunate to be awarded an Australian Awards scholarship and my hope was to go out and get as much knowledge as possible and come back to help the people of Vanuatu, to access justice, especially vulnerable members of the community including women and children,” she said.

“In a rural setting, we have all grown up witnessing violence and injustices and sometimes for people in the community it feels like you’re helpless. Now I’m in this position I feel like I can contribute by educating the community as to their rights through awareness and free clinics in remote communities.

“The priority is for the PSO to continue to train and upskill its sixteen lawyers and increase resources in all the provinces in order to provide high quality legal services to people.”

As a student, Tari was honoured with an Australia scholarship to pursue her Master of Law degree. Now, within the PSO, Tari continues to witness the beneficial outcomes of Vanuatu’s partnership with Australia in the justice sector.

According to the Ministry of Justice and Community Service (MoJCS), PSO currently has offices in four provinces, and as part of the government’s decentralization agenda, the office is increasingly focusing on expanding its network and reaching underserved communities.

MoJCS stated that citizens can access PSO’s services across the country through offices located in Port Vila, Santo, Malekula and Tanna.

“Solicitors also attend other islands for monthly court circuits and to run awareness sessions and clinics for people wanting to use the legal service. The PSO also runs a weekly one-hour radio show on the national broadcaster on Fridays to help raise awareness of legal issues in the community, and has a website where people can access information,” said the ministry.

The government of Australia has substantially supported the PSO in recent years, through its strong police and justice partnership with Vanuatu, and according to Tari, the PSO and the communities it serves, are seeing the benefit of Australia’s support.

“The support has helped us so much and it is important that any support we receive from Australia is sustainable. The teams come in and give us skills but once they leave the skills are there and you can see that.

“You can see the elevation in knowledge, skills, and confidence. For example, we have so many new lawyers coming in and having Australia’s consistent support has helped us come up together and that has knock on impacts on the development of jurisprudence in Vanuatu,” Ms Tari added.