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A bee farmer’s story in accessing justice

Stevens Jacques of Tanna used to work for the Agriculture Department as an Agriculture Field Assistant. He holds a certificate in Tropical Agriculture, which inspired him almost 20 years ago to pursue an interest in commercial bee farming. He had acquired the necessary knowledge and skills to manage a bee keeping business from the Tagabe Agriculture station. To cut to the chase, he established 26 bee hives that he was able to collect honey from and sold in the local market for good money. He was quite successful – to put it mildly until disaster struck, leaving his dreams of growing the honey business in tatters. He hasn’t had any opportunity to express his story until he heard about Campaign for Justice (C4J) that he has decided to share his story. Below is how the misfortune unfolded. From 1988 to 2000 Mr Jacques was into bee farming business. At that time, he had a total of 26 bee hives altogether – spread over different areas in East Efate – Eratap, Erakor, Rentabau and Teouma. He was able to extract honey and made a decent income for his family. In one year he recorded a profit of almost Vt500, 000 – just from selling honey around town. It so happened that in July of 2000 the Vanuatu Quarantine Inspections Services (VQIS) and an overseas consultant decided to conduct what they described initially as a ‘survey’ on the small cadre of honey bee keeping businesses in Efate to determine bee diseases affecting bee hives. Sometimes after the ‘survey’ at his property – as he was told; on the pretext of fulfilling a lawful requirement under Animal Disease Control Act No. 29, a total of 23 bees died. This abruptly resulted in the loss and damage to his business venture as more bee hives became infected. In 2003, after a number attempts to get some form of answers from the department of Agriculture; particularly to determine the cause of the death of his bees, Mr Jacques ran into a brick wall. So he decided to take the matter further to seek compensation for the losses he suffered. During the course of a judicial process that took years to resolve, he decided to tell his story to raise important issues regarding the delivery of justice for citizens like him who believe they are being unfairly treated by the very own institutions meant to protect them. In June 2007, as if to rub salt to injury, his case file – case No. 123 of 2003 was destroyed by the infamous court house fire. It took another 14 years for the Supreme Court to fully reconstruct the case. The reconstructed case eventually ended up in the hands of Chief Justice, Vincent Lunabek, who in March 26th 2019 after hearing the case, Justice Lunabek dismissed the claims on the grounds that the claimant had failed to prove his claims on the balance of probabilities. Notwithstanding the outcome, Mr Jacques decided to file for an appeal. The matter was brought before the Court of Appeal on 10th of April 2019. He lost the appeal. But the outcome of the case raises a number of issues that are of interest to Campaign for Justice, specifically as it concerns the conduct and professionalism of lawyers in this country. Accessing justice in this country can be quite an expensive exercise and one needs to be fully cognizant of the fact there are lawyers now being admitted to the bar that maybe need to be properly graduated – again. Campaign for Justice believes there are lawyers out there who are in the profession mostly for money making purposes and careless whether or not the advice that they provide to clients – at quite exorbitant charges, are on the money. For Jacques; had he been adequately advised about his chances of succeeding, he would have made a better decision on pursuing a civil claim of this nature. Too late, he has already forked out a fortune – almost half a million on lawyer fees to fight a case that has ultimately yielded nothing in return.

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