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“Paralegals support the justice system as a whole”

An Interview with Nomboniso Nangu Maqubela

Nomboniso Nangu Maqubela is the Interim National Coordinator for the National Alliance for the Development of Community Advice Offices (NADCAO), based in South Africa.  Currently, NADCAO is working to ensure that paralegals, also known as community advisers, are recognized formally in South Africa’s forthcoming Legal Practice Bill.  In the excerpts from her extended interview below, Nomboniso explains why she believes justice is not an issue for lawyers alone.

“RECOGNITION OF COMMUNITY-BASED PARALEGALS has been a work in progress in South Africa since 1998.  The first document that came out was a Legal Services Charter that recognized all providers of legal services in South Africa.  This included community-based paralegals, legal professionals like advocates and lawyers, and other stakeholders that work within the legal services sector.

In 2009, the Legal Practice Bill was put in the public domain, and at that time it definitely regulated the work of all legal services, including community-based paralegals.  There was an entire chapter dedicated to the work of community-based paralegals in that draft working bill.

The work of community-based paralegals is complementary to all other providers of legal services in South Africa.

In 2012, the Ministry of Justice published a Legal Practice Bill that excludes community-based paralegals and focuses primarily on the transformation of the legal profession, which means lawyers and advocates. The argument is that the bill that they are putting forward is not meant to regulate legal services, but rather to regulate the legal profession, which is just one service provider within the legal services sector.

Essentially, the government is opting for a separate regulatory framework for community-based paralegals.

But the work of community-based paralegals is complementary to all other providers of legal services in South Africa. They refer matters for litigation to lawyers, they work with a number of institutions that support their work, they do the primary spinning of the work, they take the initial steps of defining the issue, and they work through the system and define important stakeholders.

The recognition of government and other legal service providers would make their work that much more effective, and would provide clear guidelines on where and how paralegal services should be delivered.

The inclusion of the community-based paralegal in the legal services framework would ensure that paralegals interact effectively with the entire justice system, so that at all times the institution is permanent, the community member can access it, the services are regulated, and everybody understands what those services are.

For the government of South Africa not to recognize the importance of the work, and the impact of that work on the lives of communities in South Africa, is actually a crime in itself.

NADCAO is concerned about the sustainability of the community advice offices and the community-based paralegals that work in those advice offices. The inclusion of the community-based paralegal in the legal services framework would ensure that the work of the community-based paralegal is institutionalized, recognized, and supported by government.

NADCAO, working with the provincial forum leadership, is looking at the implications of the Bill for the legal services sector and preparing a brief for the portfolio committee on the implications of the Bill on the work of community-based paralegals in South Africa.

NADCAO continues to engage with community-based paralegals to understand their views on this matter, to ensure that the submission to the Department of Justice is informed by the community-based paralegals who actually work in the Community Advice Offices and provide these primary services that are so essential for these poor and marginalized communities.

Community-based paralegals work with communities and have relationships with those communities that they’ve built over twenty years. For the government of South Africa not to recognize the importance of the work, and the impact of that work on the lives of communities in South Africa, is actually a crime in itself.”

-Nomboniso Nangu Maqubela, as told to Bremen Donovan

Click here to watch other conversations in the series.

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