Access to Justice By Charles
Ekins. Chief Justice, St Helena, Ascension Island and Tristan da Cunha
of the Attorney General’s Chambers the Public Solicitor is the only qualified
practicing lawyer on St Helena. On St Helena she is available, if instructed,
to represent those charged with criminal offences and those involved in
litigation against the Government. In disputes between private individuals the
Public Solicitor will not generally act for one side or the other; but is
available to advise the Lay Advocates instructed on procedural matters; and if
asked by all parties will act as an unofficial but impartial mediator.
is no equivalent office on Ascension Island although the Public Solicitor on St
Helena visits Ascension occasionally and is available to advise the Lay
Advocates on Ascension by telephone.
Advocacy is a rarity in the context of a formal legal system and indeed is
perhaps unique to St Helena and to Ascension Island.
have recognised rights of audience both in the Magistrates Court and in the
Supreme Court. They are volunteers with, as the name suggests, no formal legal
background training or qualification.
shows however that what Lay Advocates lack in formal legal qualification is
amply compensated for in their intimate knowledge of the communities in which
they live, and the trust reposed in them by those they represent.
demands made of a Lay Advocate may be considerable. Any case, whether it comes
before a Court or not, requires preparation. A Lay Advocate may be asked to
represent someone whose cause is controversial or unpopular.
those circumstances the Lay Advocate may be asked “How can you possibly
represent so and so?”. It is a question asked of trained lawyers throughout the
world. The answer is quite simple: anyone who appears before a court ought to
have the right to be represented whatever the reason they are there for. To
deny that right is to undermine the very fabric of the legal system.
recognize that right however requires that Advocates, Lay or otherwise, are
available to represent without fear of criticism. Lay Advocates perform a
are available to represent those who require representation. They also ensure
that access to justice on St Helena and Ascension is available to all. Because
they are volunteers they do not charge for their services, although on St
Helena a small emolument is paid to them by the Government. No one therefore
should be denied justice solely because the cost of seeking justice is too
Advocates provide a remarkable service. It also can be an enormously rewarding
role. Lay Advocates are deserving of the support and respect of the communities
they serve. St Helena requires additional Lay Advocates.
new recruits can be found there is a real danger that, in time, the unique
legal system that we enjoy in these communities will wither and die. If that
happens then there is a very real possibility that the principle of access to
justice for all will severely be weakened, which would be a tragedy.
have already said, it is a system that depends on volunteers. Anyone, whether
St Helenian or not, is eligible to apply to become a Lay Advocate.
those who might be interested in applying to become a Lay Advocate it is
important to demonstrate that your employment is sufficiently independent of
Government. If you feel that you possess the qualities to be a Lay Advocate
then I would urge you to step forward.
interested in the Lay Advocacy should contact the Public Solicitor on St
Helena, Mrs Debbie Wahle. Do please seriously consider whether you have
something to offer as we have a system that is worth preserving but which can
only be preserved with the active participation of the community.
Public Solicitor for St Helena and