A notable few —Nigeria, Malawi, Sierra Leone, and Tanzania—are approaching the challenge holistically. These governments are considering a broad range of service providers within their legal aid schemes, looking to community paralegals in addition to lawyers. Community paralegals are non-lawyers trained in the workings of law and government, as well as in skills like mediation and advocacy. They use their knowledge to seek out practical solutions to instances of injustice. Across the continent, paralegals are helping people to demand and exercise their rights, overcoming common obstacles like cost, lack of awareness, corruption, discrimination, or distance.
Across the continent, paralegals are helping people to demand and exercise their rights.
Last month, over fifty paralegal organizations from twenty African countries convened at a regional meeting in Uganda. Together, they issued the Kampala Declaration on Community Paralegals. The statement urges governments to embrace the potential of community paralegals in three ways—by recognizing their contributions to justice and accountability, investing in the scale-up of paralegal efforts, and protecting the independence of paralegals. The declaration remains open for further signatures.
Against this background, it is regrettable that the latest version of South Africa’s new Legal Practice Bill fails to recognize a formal role for community paralegals. This stance is particularly troubling, given that South Africa is considered the birthplace of paralegals. As far back as the 1950s, paralegals supported black South Africans in efforts to navigate and resist the codes of apartheid.
In this moving audio piece, Seth Mnguni, spokesman for South Africa’s National Task Team on Community-Based Paralegals (NTT) and a long-time paralegal himself, describes the history of the South African paralegal movement and his vision for the future of the profession.
Together with the National Alliance for Development of Community Advice Offices (NADCAO), NTT has prepared a joint submission to the Portfolio Committee on Justice and Constitutional Development, pushing for the inclusion of community paralegals in the Legal Practice Bill. NADCAO and NTT argue that the bill cannot achieve its objective of addressing massive gaps in legal access by relying exclusively on community service from lawyers.
The Kampala Declaration urges governments to embrace the potential of community paralegals.
As NADCAO and NTT note, paralegals are often closer to the communities they serve than the typical, city-based lawyer. They also employ a wider and more flexible set of tools. By virtue of their rights-based training, paralegals provide more than just legal services; they are oriented toward broader goals of community empowerment and development. Despite this, the Legal Practice Bill does not acknowledge paralegals as an integral part of South Africa’s legal aid system, nor does it provide them with adequate state support. In the end, this position critically undermines both the legitimacy and sustainability of paralegal efforts.
The submission deadline for comments on the Legal Practice Bill, originally July 27, has been extended. This delay provides a key opportunity for NADCAO and NTT to galvanize support for the inclusion of community paralegals in the legal framework of South Africa.
You can play a role in this effort. Pledge your support to NADCAO and NTT by signing their online petition. The more support they can show for their cause, the greater the chances South Africans will have to enjoy real and meaningful access to justice.
This piece originally appeared on the Open Society Foundation’s Voices blog.
Abigail Moy is Program Director for Global Operations at Namati. She previously worked in access to justice programs throughout Africa, Latina America, and South Asia; the U.S. District Court of the Northern District of Illinois; the Office of the Legal Adviser at the United States Department of State; and White & Case, LLP. Moy was awarded a Fulbright Fellowship, graduated cum laude from Harvard Law School, and holds a master’s degree in law and development from the Fletcher School of law and Diplomacy.
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Last updated: May 25, 2018
This Policy describes our privacy practices and sets out your obligations and ours with respect to your use of the Site and the Forum. This Policy applies only to the Site and the Forum and does not necessarily apply to our offline collection of information.
Namati may collect and retain two types of information about Site and Forum visitors: (i) personal information that individual visitors voluntarily provide when interacting on the Site or Forum or on certain other occasions (such as via forms or in emails); and (ii) tracking data, which is data that is automatically collected from every Site and Forum visitor as they use and browse the site.
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We retain the right to transfer or assign all information pursuant to a merger, purchase or other transaction relating to Namati or our assets.
The current list of third-party service providers we use include:
Reduces spam posts on the Forum.
Privacy notice: https://automattic.com/privacy/
Amazon Web Services
Stores backups for the Site and the Forum.
Privacy notice: https://aws.amazon.com/privacy/
Hosts and stores backups for the Forum.
Privacy notice: https://www.digitalocean.com/legal/privacy/
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Privacy notice: https://www.google.com/analytics/terms/
Online service for organizing and hosting webinars.
Privacy notice: https://www.logmeininc.com/legal/privacy
Provides mailing list and mail server services for sending newsletters, Forum notifications, and weekly email summaries.
Privacy notice: https://mailchimp.com/legal/privacy/
Online service providing contact management system.
Privacy notice: https://www.salesforce.com/company/privacy/
Provides cloud servers for hosting the Site.
Privacy notice: https://wpengine.com/legal/privacy/
Online service to automate adding member data to Salesforce.
Privacy notice: https://zapier.com/privacy/
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Your Information is stored on Digital Ocean servers in New York, USA.
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The Forum uses data about your posts and other activity to make automated decisions about whether your posts are spam.
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The section titles in this Policy are for convenience only and have no legal or contractual effect.
The Site, the Forum, and any third party services they use, may be subject to additional terms and conditions regarding privacy and use of information. Your use of the Site and the Forum is subject to those terms and conditions, which are incorporated into this Policy by reference. In the event of an inconsistency between this Policy and any additional posted conditions, the provisions of the additional conditions shall control.
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Namati Data Protection Officer
1616 P Street NW, Suite 101
Washington, DC 20036, USA
If you live in a country which has adopted the General Data Protection Regulation (EU; 2016/679), you have a right to lodge a complaint with your relevant supervisory authority about this policy and its application.
The Policy was updated in May 2018 to comply with the General Data Protection Regulations.