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President Tsai attends opening of 2018 International Forum on Legal Aid
President Tsai attends opening of 2018 International Forum on Legal Aid

President Tsai Ing-wen attended the opening ceremony of the 2018 International Forum on Legal Aid: Expanding the Horizons of Legal Aid on the morning of November 1. She explained that through the legal aid system, Taiwan has effectively implemented the people's right to institute legal proceedings and their right to equality, as guaranteed under our Constitution. She also encouraged our legal aid partners to continue their efforts to help all those in need, and gradually remove judicial barriers. 

President Tsai began her remarks by welcoming friends from 17 countries from Asia, Europe, and the Americas, as well as Australia and New Zealand, for this fourth International Forum on Legal Aid. She was sure that the attendees were aware that Taiwan is now getting ready to vote on national referendums, and elect local public officials at the county and city level. And every time we hold an election, she said, the people of Taiwan write a new page in a continuing story of democracy and freedom.

For over 30 years, the president noted, throughout Taiwan's democratization process we have sought to improve our judicial system. The government hopes that system will guarantee the fundamental rights of the people, and achieve social justice values. So after Taiwan's national judicial reform conference in 1999, we began to promote the Legal Aid Act. Under that Act, ensuring underprivileged groups have the right to institute legal proceedings is an important policy goal.

President Tsai stated that Taiwan's Legal Aid Foundation (LAF) has been operating for 14 years. During that time, annual government funding for the Foundation has increased from NT$300 million to NT$1.4 billion; the number of cases that the LAF handles has increased 11-fold; and the number of people receiving legal consultation services has increased almost 30-fold.

Through the legal aid system, the president said, Taiwan has effectively implemented the people's right to institute legal proceedings and their right to equality, as guaranteed under our Constitution. So Taiwan society can clearly see the LAF's achievements over the past few years. But we have not become complacent. To meet the public's higher expectations for the judiciary she convened a National Conference on Judicial Reform at the Presidential Office two years ago. At that Conference, she said, we drafted several important resolutions to protect the rights of underprivileged groups and set up mechanisms to protect children and juveniles.

President Tsai encouraged our legal aid partners to work together to implement our consensus on judicial reforms, and improve legal aid for various social sectors like laborers, women, children and juveniles, the physically and mentally challenged, indigenous peoples, and immigrants and foreign workers. Our common goal is to gradually remove judicial barriers so that we can help all those in need.

In addition to providing legal aid for individual cases, the president mentioned, by handling many litigation cases, the LAF also uncovers underlying social issues. She then expressed hope that the Foundation will collaborate with civic groups to propose legal amendments and system reforms, further strengthening the social safety net.

President Tsai noted that the theme of this international forum, "Expanding the Horizons of Legal Aid," is a call to transform the traditional, passive approach to legal aid. It asks us to actively discover needs, integrate resources from all sectors of society, and combine local experience with service data. That will help us provide more timely and appropriate legal aid services that respond to current social issues.

The president further stated that the discussion topics at this forum were all connected to the United Nation's Sustainable Development Goals, and will therefore contribute to global social wellbeing, and the protection of human rights. She added that we are willing to share Taiwan's experience in promoting legal aid with the international community, and especially with like-minded countries in Asia.

In closing, President Tsai expressed hope that all the representatives of legal aid organizations from various countries will join us in mutual exchanges to inspire our work. She also thanked the LAF for hosting this event, and wished the forum great success.

Attendees included Judicial Yuan President Hsu Tzong-li (許宗力); Executive Yuan Minister without Portfolio Lo Ping-cheng (羅秉成); Minister of Justice Tsai Ching-hsiang (蔡清祥); Professor Tzu-Yi Lin (林子儀), Organizing Committee Chair of the 2018 International Forum on Legal Aid; and LAF Chairperson K.C. Fan (范光群).

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