Tonga will soon be the first country in the Pacific to have a legal aid centre specifically dedicated to helping people who are survivors of domestic violence. The Family Protection Legal Aid Centre will be opening its doors on Monday 12 March 2018.
The Centre was established by Tonga’s Ministry of Justice, with support provided by the Pacific Community (SPC) through its Regional Rights Resource Team (RRRT). The Centre was initiated under the leadership of the late Susana Faletau, Chief Executive Officer for the Ministry of Justice.
Tonga passed the Family Protection Act in 2013 to ensure the safety and protection of all persons, including children, who experience or witness domestic violence. Domestic violence is any physical, sexual or mental abuse that occurs within a domestic or family setting.
The courts have the power to issue Protection Orders, which have a number of conditions that clearly outline that the perpetrator cannot contact or harm the person named in the Order (the survivor). The Act also provides for specific offences relating to domestic violence, which again clearly outlines that the reported violence is no longer considered a private matter; rather, it is a societal concern requiring intervention and eradication.
The Family Protection Legal Aid Centre will assist any persons facing violence within their families by providing quality free legal assistance, advice and representation. People will be able to come to the centre to receive assistance in applying for protection orders under the Family Protection Act, and other related family law matters which occur as a result of a breach of the Family Protection Act.
The Centre will open from 8:30am to 4:30pm Monday to Friday, and will also be available after hours over telephone. People can drop in at the Centre located next to the Magistrates’ Court at Fasi, or contact by telephone at 26-387 or 26-388.
The Family Protection Legal Aid Centre is funded by the Government of Tonga, in partnership with the Australian Government and the Government of Sweden.
“Sweden commends the groundbreaking work of the Tongan Ministry of Justice and RRRT for the establishment of the first Legal Aid Centre in Tonga to support survivors of violence. We are convinced that the legal aid centre will make a positive impact on individuals and families who have experienced violence,” said Charlotta Bredberg, Counsellor -Human Rights and Democracy Development section at the Embassy of Sweden, Bangkok.
This is also considered to be an important step in addressing impunity for acts of family violence in the society. Freedom from violence is a fundamental human right and a precondition for peaceful and inclusive societies,” Bredberg added.
Australian High Commissioner to Tonga, HE Andrew Ford, said the new legal aid centre is an essential service for survivors of violence. “Australia is proud to support this new and important legal aid centre, particularly as a legacy left by the late Ministry of Justice CEO Susana Faletau. We look forward to close cooperation with the Ministry and RRRT once the centre is in service.”
Onorina Saukelo, RRRT Communications Assistant, [email protected] or +679 337 0733
‘Aunofo ‘Aholelei, Tonga Ministry of Justice, [email protected] or 23-015
Fitilagi Fa’anunu, Family Protection Legal Aid Centre lawyer, [email protected]