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Justice Watchdogs: Promoting Women’s Access to Justice through Community-Based Paralegal Programs

By: Carley Robb-Jackson

Within conflict-affected states, rule of law reforms have typically centered on building the capacity and legitimacy of state and formal institutions, and only address citizens‟ justice experiences and needs at a cursory level. Recently, there has been recognition of the need to consider individuals in the reform process, and this awareness has led to a transition from primarily top-down institutional reforms towards those which include bottom-up interventions. This increased focus on bottom-up interventions is accompanied by an emphasis on access to justice and a strategy of legal empowerment.

Within the context of Sierra Leone, rule of law and justice programming began with a primarily institutional and formal approach, and these interventions were found to overlook many of citizens‟ most immediate legal needs. As a result, new forms of programming were developed which took those needs as their starting point, with community-based paralegal programs as one strategy. Despite the significant development and rapid growth of these programs, they have received scant attention within the literature, and insufficient research exists on the linkages between these programs and women‟s access to justice. There is a particular need to assess the gendered impacts of these programs, especially as donor support to user-based approaches to justice continues to increase. This paper seeks to fill this gap, by exploring the effects of community-based paralegal programs through a case study on Sierra Leone, and makes a contribution to the field of gender and law. Further, this case study is particularly well-timed as Sierra Leone moves towards its Presidential elections, to be held in November 2012, and parliament considers a draft Legal Aid Bill.

The paper proceeds in six parts, beginning with an overview of the research methodology and investigated research questions. Second, concepts and working definitions related to legal empowerment and access to justice are discussed, which lays the conceptual framework for the research. Following this, an overview of community-based paralegal programs is provided and the Sierra Leone justice context is presented. The final sections present the research findings and conclusions, while returning to the conceptual frameworks.

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Uploaded on: Aug 05, 2016
Year Published: 2012
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