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Legal Aid Programming in Africa: Sharing Experiences

On May 23-24 2012, Namati’s Sierra Leone programme director, Sonkita Conteh joined country level UNDP staff and key regional legal aid practitioners in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania to discuss experiences and lessons on legal aid policy and programming in Africa.

The keynote speech at the two-day event was delivered by Tanzania’s deputy minister for constitutional and legal affairs, who noted the significant contributions of non-state entities in the provision of legal aid to indigent persons.

The purpose of the workshop was to foster knowledge sharing on legal aid experiences in Africa and to strengthen the capacities of UNDP, UNODC and UNICEF practitioners on legal aid programming to engage with national partners on accessible legal aid systems. It also served to validate a draft Legal Aid Programming Tool prepared under the direction of UNDP but with contributions from a diverse group of access to justice practitioners. The workshop analysed and reviewed how the tool addressed the needs of UNDP and partner practitioners in the responding to the current context and emerging issues in legal aid provision on the continent.

Leading discussions during a breakout session on ‘strengthening legal aid service providers impact’, Conteh shared experiences from Sierra Leone where Namati is leading efforts to establish a national approach to basic justice service provision, using a frontline of community-based paralegals backstopped by lawyers. He maintained that ‘proper measurement of impact depends on the existence of good data collection and data management systems by service providers- which do not necessarily have to be expensive.’

In his contribution at plenary on making the draft legal aid programming tool better, the programme director suggested among others that because ‘measure of impact’ is such an important part of programming, the draft tool should seek to address it as a specific issue rather than in the diffused way that it is currently addressed.

There were many other useful contributions from the diverse group of experienced participants mostly drawing from country contexts. At the end of the event, participants were unanimous about the achievement of the workshop’s objective- fostering knowledge sharing on legal aid experiences in Africa. From paralegals and volunteers to university law clinics and legal aid commissions, the methods of legal aid provision on display were as varied as the experience of the participants.

To read more coverage on the meeting, please click here.

June 4, 2012 | Namati