Centre for Justice to open soon
A new Centre for Justice will soon be up and running, to promote understanding of human rights and the law through education and advocacy.
The centre, which is a non-governmental, non-profit and non-partisan organisation, is the brainchild of former Human Rights Commissioner (HRC) Venous Memari.
During her three years as chairman of the HRC, Ms Memari lobbied for the Commission to be made independent from Government. For this reason, she said, the new Centre for Justice, of which she is managing director, will be “filling a huge gap” in providing an independent human rights organisation.
“We do not have that in Bermuda with the HRC, which is a statutory body. In the manner in which it’s organised, it’s an extended arm of government,” she said.
Ms Memari, a lawyer who is originally from Iran and has lived in Bermuda since 1982, founded the centre after 18 months researching independent human rights organisations in the UK, US, South Africa and Ireland.
“The aim is to promote human rights and the rule of law in accordance with the rights proclaimed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international human instruments such as the European Convention on Human Rights as well as the Bermuda Constitution,” she explained.
The centre plans to have “a quite wide and very ambitious” remit, according to Ms Memari. It hopes to collaborate with the HRC and other organisations such as the Commission for Unity and Racial Equality (CURE) and the Two Words and a Comma campaign to combat discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
“Short-term, we will scrutinise legislation and policy to ensure compatibility with international human rights standards and the rule of law; publish user-friendly legal briefings and guidance notes; and hold public forums and debates on fundamental human rights including any proposed legislation that may impact on those rights,” she said.
“We will also intervene, as a third party, in cases involving the protection of fundamental rights. The purpose of third party intervention in court proceedings is to assist the courts by providing independent analysis of human rights principles and standards at issue in a case as well as any relevant international and comparative human rights law.
“Long-term, we wish to improve access to justice by establishing pro bono services within the legal community and to provide special legal advice where a miscarriage of justice may have taken place.
“Our credibility and legitimacy will have to come from public confidence. This is really for the community.”
The centre has already been registered as a charity, chosen a board of directors, and hopes to begin business in the next four to six weeks. It is planning public forums, a website and flyers to offer guidance on a range of issues. It will be funded by a grant, although Ms Memari said she was not in a position to give further details about the funding yesterday.
The centre currently has nine directors, but may recruit up to three more. Those already enlisted are lawyers Shaun Morris, Chen Foley, Jay Kempe, Neil Halliday and Ms Memari. There are also four directors who are not lawyers Robert Trew, Lucinda Woolridge, Levyette Robinson and Mike Chilvers.
“We wanted a diverse group,” said Ms Memari, adding: “In order to give effect to our non-partisanship, our bylaws expressly preclude Members of Parliament [former and present], and political candidates from admission into membership.”
Further details about the centre will be released in due course, once it has set up office space and a website and planned the first forum in November, which will focus on police powers to stop and search people.