22 Mar 2007

Tonga provides free legal aid to some charged over riot

8:12 pm on 22 March 2007

As Tonga prepares to hear dozens of cases involving people charged in relation to the riot last November, the government has announced the community law centre is providing legal aid to those who cannot afford their own lawyer.

The attorney general, 'Alisi Taumoepeau, says the government shares the concerns about reasonable access to justice, and particularly that legal representation should be available to everyone who needs it.

She says two local lawyers have been engaged through the community law centre and the system is already operating reasonably.

Ms Taumoepeau says the government intends giving the scheme, which is funded by the New Zealand aid agency NZAID, more publicity.

Hearings began last month for around 600 defendants, while a youth diversion scheme means several hundred others, who acknowledge minor offences, will not need to appear before the courts.