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Legal Aid 2.0

“Charity is no substitute for justice withheld.”- St Augustine of Hippo

A National Approach to Basic Justice Services

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In its classic form, legal aid has serious limitations. In many places lawyers are costly and scarce, and providing enough formal legal assistance to meet demand would be impossible. Legal Aid 2.0 is about helping people who face injustice with a more flexible and creative approach. It takes a country’s social and legal context into account and is concerned not just with delivering legal services, but also with empowering people by putting the law into their hands.

When a juvenile is wrongfully detained or farmland is taken from a widow, in many parts of the world such victims of injustice have nowhere to turn. Namati is dedicated to helping communities protect their rights in daily life and to spreading access to justice to places it previously has not reached.

In 2009, the Open Society Justice Initiative (OSJI), the Government of Sierra Leone, Timap for Justice, the World Bank and a number of civil society organizations began working together to develop a national approach to basic justice services. The project draws on a frontline of community-based paralegals and a small corps of service-minded lawyers.

Since 2009, 16 new community-based paralegal offices have opened in Sierra Leone, more than doubling the number of paralegals providing free basic justice services in the country. In all, 41 new paralegals from six local partner organizations were given basic training on various aspects of the law and procedure, including customary law, as well as paralegal skills. The OSJI and the German Aid Agency GIZ supported the training. Currently, paralegal services are available across 33 locations in eight out of 12 districts and the capital. In addition to coordination and oversight, Namati (which took over implementation of the project from OSJI) provides support to these paralegal organizations through training and the development of monitoring and evaluation tools.

Namati and its partners were at the forefront of developing new legislation in Sierra Leone that now formally recognizes paralegals as providers of justice services and aspires to set standards for overseeing their work.

In order to spread the lessons of Sierra Leone to other developing countries, Namati is keen to work with other development partners or donor countries.

Partner Spotlight

Access to Justice Law Centre (AJLC) is the Catholic Church’s public law organization working for greater access to justice for the poor in the Makeni region of northern Sierra Leone. It uses research, mediation, advocacy, community legal education and training as well as effective legal advice and representation in police stations and courts. AJLC provides services across five locations in the north of Sierra Leone.

AdvocAid supports justice, education and reintegration into the community for female detainees and their children in Sierra Leone. The organization was founded in 2006 and aims to strengthen women’s access to justice. It works to empower women as active citizens through the provision of education, welfare and post-prison support.

BRAC’s mission is to empower people suffering poverty, illiteracy, disease and social injustice. Brac’s interventions aim to achieve large scale, positive change through economic and social programs that enable men and women to realize their potential. BRAC’s Human Rights and Legal Aid Services (HRLS) Program is dedicated to protecting and promoting the human rights of the poor and marginalized through legal empowerment. BRAC opened its offices in Sierra Leone in 2008 and started work in 2009 and now runs successful services in microfinance, health, agriculture and legal empowerment. Brac has paralegal offices in five locations in northern Sierra Leone and is supported by Namati and Trocaire.

Justice and Peace Commission (JPC) is part of CARITAS Sierra Leone, which carries out the development work of the Catholic Church in the country. JCP seeks to ensure fairness, forgiveness, reconciliation and peaceful co-existence in the communities where it operates. It has two components – access to justice and peace building. The access to justice component provides free legal services to the vulnerable and marginalized using community-based paralegals from three locations in central Freetown and western rural Sierra Leone.

Methodist Church Sierra Leone Development and Relief Agency is a NGO of the Methodist church of Sierra Leone operating in the field of development and peace building. Three years ago, it started a paralegal program in partnership with two other NGOs, the Network Movement for Justice and Development (NMJD) and the Solima Fishing and Community Development Program (SFCDP), called Partners in Conflict Transformation (PICOT). PICOT was created in response to recommendations of Sierra Leone’s post-civil war Truth and Reconciliation Commission. With support from Namati, MCSL is currently providing paralegal services in two chiefdoms in the Bonthe district, namely Jong and Yawbeko.

Timap for Justice is a pioneering effort to provide basic justice services in Sierra Leone. As a result of a shortage of lawyers in the country and because of Sierra Leone’s dualist legal structure, Timap’s frontline is made up of community-based paralegals rather than lawyers. Timap presently employs over 70 staff that work in 19 paralegal offices across Sierra Leone as well as in the capital Freetown.

In 2009 Timap launched two initiatives expanding on its core work. Modeled on the Malawian Village Mediation Program, Timap’s Community Mediation Program is a partnership with the Government of Sierra Leone’s Justice Sector Development Program and focuses on the resolution of disputes at the community level through mediation. Timap’s pilot Criminal Justice Project seeks to narrow the gap in the availability of criminal justice services by employing paralegals to provide basic legal assistance to detainees. Timap currently has 19 paralegal offices covering all the regions in the country.

Useful Links


Five Country Research Project on Community Paralegals

Community paralegal programs of different stripes exist throughout the world, and date back to at least the 1950s, when Black Sash and other organizations deployed paralegals to help non-white South Africans navigate and defend themselves against the apartheid regime in South Africa. In recent years, the paralegal approach has gained increasing attention from the international community. Despite this rise in attention, there has been very little systematic study of the workings of paralegal programs.

Namati is completing a five-country study of paralegal programs begun by the World Bank Justice for the Poor program.  Our partners have completed research in Sierra Leone, Kenya, Indonesia, South Africa and the Philippines. This study comparatively assesses paralegal programs’ impact on individuals, households, and patterns of local governance. It also assesses their scale, sustainability and their relationship to the state. The research draws on program case databases, interviews with paralegals, lawyers, program staff and other stakeholders.

Partner Spotlight


In the early 1980s Yayasan Lembaga Bantuan Hukum Indonesia / The Indonesia Legal Aid Foundation (YLBHI) began to train former clients, who were victims of human rights abuses under the New Order regime, to work as community paralegals. Additional civil society organizations began deploying paralegals in the 1990s, including Walhi, a major environmental network, and LBH Apik, Indonesia’s first legal aid organization focused on women. Today a coalition of organizations that includes these three is advocating for a legal aid act that would, among other things, recognize community paralegals as legal aid providers.

The World Bank Justice for the Poor program in Indonesia has engaged for several years in supporting and studying paralegals, and is our research partner for this country.

Sierra Leone

Timap for Justice is a Sierra Leonean community-based paralegal program founded in 2004. In 2009, Open Society Institute and the Government of Sierra Leone agreed to develop a national approach to justice services based in part on Timap’s methodology.

Justice for the Poor Sierra Leone is our research partner for Sierra Leone.  In conducting our study, we are also laying the foundation for a lasting mechanism for monitoring and evaluating justice services: a research methodology, a strengthened case database, a cadre of trained researchers.


Kenyan NGOs and faith institutions have trained community paralegals since the early 1990s. Most paralegals in Kenya work as volunteers. They address a wide range of justice issues, including land claims, inheritance, labor rights, and monitoring of government expenditure.

Africa Institute for Health and Development is our research partner in Kenya.

South Africa

Paralegals first emerged here in the 1960s to assist non-white South Africans in navigating and defending themselves against the byzantine codes of the apartheid regime. Since 1994, South African paralegals have focused on areas such as pension benefits, the rights of people living with AIDS, employment issues, gender-based violence, and land restitution. In several ways paralegals in South Africa have progressed in the direction of professionalization and larger-scale organization: the National Alliance for the Development of Community Advice Offices (NADCAO) provides training and support to smaller paralegal programs; the University of Kwa Zulu Natal runs a degree program to train community paralegals; the national legal aid board extends resources, such as support from Legal Aid attorneys, to community-based paralegals. Legislation that would formally recognize the role community paralegals play had been tabled in parliament for several years and ultimately did not pass.  A new framework for this legislation is being discussed by the NADCAO and the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development.

The Socio-Economic Rights Institute of South Africa (SERI) is our research partner in South Africa.


The “people power” movement that brought down Ferdinand Marcos in 1986 gave rise to “alternative law groups” that use the law to pursue social justice. Among these groups’ core strategies is providing training and support to community paralegals. Like Indonesia, many paralegals in the Philippines are members of farmers’, workers’, and other membership organizations; they provide services voluntarily to their fellow members.

Paralegals and alternative law groups have translated their grassroots experience into policy advocacy, and have succeeded in shaping the substance of agrarian and labor reforms. Paralegals are also now legally entitled to represent fellow citizens in some administrative tribunals.

Hector Solimon, Jenny Franco, and Maria Roda Cisnero comprise our research team.  Participating organizations belong to the coalition Alternative Law Groups.

© 2014 Namati

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