Professional Diploma in Legal Practice helps pave way for human rights advocates
The Human Rights modules delivered to Postgraduate law students under the Professional Diploma in Legal Practice (PDLP) at the University of the South Pacific (USP) has been effective in paving the way for students’ aspiring to work in the human rights space in the Pacific region.
These are the sentiments shared by programme graduates who have since found such employment in in Kiribati, Solomon Islands, and Vanuatu.
Since the start of PDLP in 1998, staff from the Pacific Community’s (SPC) Regional Rights Resource Team (RRRT) have assisted with the programme. In partnership with USP’s Pacific School of Law, RRRT has been coordinating and teaching the LWD 06 Family Law & Human Rights Skills & Practice module delivered in Fiji.
The PDLP is a 22-week programme designed to prepare Pacific Island students for entry into legal practice. RRRT is responsible for teaching the human rights module over two weeks to two intakes each year. This course is crucial in creating awareness, educating and building the capacities of law students who will subsequently use the information in their respective areas of practice in the legal field.
Apart from its own staff, RRRT brings in outside expertise in the area of human rights and family law to help in the delivery of the module. RRRT has thus far invited Australian law professors, sitting family court judges, private legal practitioners and disability experts, medical doctors, and family and human rights activists to help in the delivery of the module.
The module not only encompasses the skills component of human rights and family law, but also includes the ethical, professional considerations, managerial issues and customary matters that underpin the practice of family law and human rights in the jurisdictions of the USP member countries. It also assesses a student’s capacity for research, drafting, legal analysis and written and oral presentation of arguments.
In addition to facilitating this module, RRRT also offers one-month internships to PDLP graduates. Combined, these opportunities offer much-needed exposure to future human rights advocates.
George MacKenzie, who is currently the Parliamentary counsel to the Kiribati Parliament, said the human rights module and the RRRT internship opportunity have shaped his knowledge and understanding around family law and human rights and has been useful at his current workplace.
“The internship experience at RRRT was an eye opener. Looking at the human rights aspects of legal profession was interesting and it was quite a fertile area of law compared to the others. There is a lot of human rights aspects that the Pacific government and the Pacific Island Nations are facing and doing the PDLP attachment with RRRT allowed us to see those aspects of law,” he said.
MacKenzie has been involved in workshops and training for Kiribati Member of Parliaments (MPs), assisting in the planning stages as well as presentation deliveries for MPs ranging from topics such as human rights, gender equality, and climate change.
“My internship with RRRT has kind of prepared me for my work in trying to frame these international issues into a national focus. You know where to get the information, and how to contact other people within the system. I’ve used knowledge I’ve learnt from my attachment in public consultations,” he said.
Prior to his work as Parliamentary counsel to the Kiribati Parliament, MacKenzie was placed with the Kiribati Attorney General’s office, and was part of the team that drafted Kiribati’s Family Protection Act. This legislation provides protection orders to assist those that are affected by family violence and ensure their safety. It defines and criminalises domestic violence, namely any physical, sexual, psychological, or economic abuse against family members. MacKenzie has also been working with other human rights advocates, housed under the Kiribati Ministry of Justice (MOJ).
“My internship with RRRT was very beneficial for me and I would recommend it to any PDLP Law student who wants a change of pace to look at the human rights aspects of our law profession and I would recommend it to anybody who would like to go into that stream of legal professions. Thank you RRRT, it’s a pleasure and I hope to work further with our projects at the Kiribati parliament and other meetings,” MacKenzie said.
Another i-Kiribati PDLP graduate, Ms Grace Pine, who is now a Human Rights Officer at the Kiribati MOJ said the human rights module was informative and interesting and fared well for her, particularly with her desire to work in human rights for as long as she can remember.
“We learnt a lot about human rights in so many areas, and also for family law, it added to a lot more to what I learnt in law school (undergraduate) because in law school I did family law online and when we had that opportunity with RRRT, it was an avenue to learn more and go deeper into family law,” she said.
Ms Pine carried out her PDLP internship with Kiribati’s Office of the Peoples Lawyer, where the knowledge learnt in the PDLP human rights module came in handy. She then later on joined the Kiribati Human Rights Unit where she works alongside RRRT’s Country Focal Officer, Mr Amberoti Nikora.
Similar experiences were shared by Ni-Vanuatu PDLP graduate, Ms Donna Pune-Narai, who has gone on to become RRRT’s Country Focal Officer for Vanuatu.
“We learnt how to draft wills, we did legal/court practices and given useful feedback such as how we should appear in court, and what we needed to say; what we should do as a prosecution officer or prosecution lawyer and through this human rights module, I came to know of Vanuatu’s Family Protection Act,” she said.
Ms Narai also pointed out the difference to her law undergraduate course, which was more theoretical.
“You are just sitting there in the classroom but for PDLP, you are doing presentations and this gives you more confidence and then more confidence when you get a job as a lawyer or as a legal person in your society post-PDLP- you know what to do, how to address a judge, what advice you should give, and if a person approach you to draft a will, you already know what to do,” she said.
It was through her PDLP term at USP that Ms Narai came to know about RRRT’s work in human rights around the Pacific region. After her internship, she applied for the Country Focal Officer position advertised by RRRT, a position she holds to date.
In the last three years, USP has also been delivering PDLP in Samoa, Solomon Islands, and Vanuatu. In the Solomon Islands, PDLP graduate, Ms Primrose Lagafoli feels that as the course was delivered in Honiara rather than Fiji, the programme was more relevant due to the focus on Solomon Island law. Ms Lagafoli learnt about Solomon’s Family Protection Act from the television when she was in undergraduate studies in 2014 but learnt about it more from PDLP.
Growing up in the Solomon Islands, Ms Lagafoli saw how males were dominant over females. On her paternal side, only males are encouraged to go to school and be educated. Due her growing interest in gender empowerment and human rights her father has since realised the value of education for all, regardless of gender.
“Studying law was tough but I will be the first lawyer in my family. I can see that my family are very proud of me. They don’t call me by my name, they call me “lawyer”.
Ms Lagafoli does not see herself working in a Court but rather using her skills to push for gender equality and women’s empowerment. Her goal is for all women in her home country to have access to basic education and the same opportunities that she has.
The PDLP programme and RRRT internships are helping to grow the next generation of human rights advocates by introducing them to human rights and family law and offering real life professional exposure. Anyone wishing to join the PDLP programme can contact the USP School of Law. Opportunities for internships at RRRT will be disseminated to current and future PDLP graduates.