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 implausible. Legal Aid 2.0 encompasses efforts to assist people who face injustice through greater flexibility and creativity. It is responsive to socio-legal context, and is concerned not just with service delivery but with building power.
National Approach to Basic Justice Services
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 that draws on a frontline of community-based paralegals and a small corps of service-minded lawyers. Namati is taking forward OSJI’s role in this partnership.
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. With support from OSJI and the German Aid Agency GIZ, 41 new paralegals from 6 local partner organizations were provided basic training on various aspects of the law and procedure, including customary law, as well as paralegal skills. Currently, paralegal services are available across 33 locations in 8 out of 12 districts and the capital. In addition to coordination and oversight, Namati provides support to these paralegal organizations through training, the development of monitoring and evaluation tools, and the pursuit of a joint funding mechanism for basic justice services in cooperation with the United Kingdom’s International Development Department, DFID.
Meanwhile, project partners have been working on developing new legislation that recognizes paralegals as providers of justice services, establishes oversight mechanisms and a network of service providers, and sets standards for paralegals and justice service organizations.
Access to Justice Law Centre(AJLC) is the Catholic Diocese of Makeni’s (northern Sierra Leone) public law organisation working for greater access to justice for the poor in northern Sierra Leone, through research, mediation, advocacy, community legal education, trainings and effective legal advice and representation in police stations and courts. AJLC provides services across 5 locations in the north of Sierra Leone.
AdvocAid supports justice, education and reintegration for female detainees, and their children, in Sierra Leone. Founded in 2006, the organisation’s aim is to strengthen access to justice, including an increased ability to claim rights, for women and to empower them as active citizens through the provision of education, welfare and post-prison support.
BRAC. Brac’s mission is to empower people and communities in situations of poverty, illiteracy, disease and social injustice. Brac’s interventions aim to achieve large scale, positive changes through economic and social programmes that enable men and women to realise their potential. BRAC’s Human Rights and Legal Aid Services (HRLS) Programme is dedicated to protecting and promoting human rights of the poor and marginalised through legal empowerment. BRAC opened its offices in Sierra Leone in 2008 and started integrated programmes in 2009 and now runs successful services in microfinance, health, agriculture, legal empowerment. Supported by Namati and Trocaire, Brac has paralegal offices in 5 locations in the northern Sierra Leone.
Justice and Peace Commission (JPC) is a wing of CARITAS Sierra Leone, which carries out the development work of the Catholic Church in the country. Established by the office of the Archbishop of Freetown, JPC seeks to ensure fairness, forgiveness, reconciliation and peaceful co-existence in communities they operate. It has two components- access to justice and peace-building. The access to justice component provides free legal services to the vulnerable and marginalised using community-based paralegals from 3 locations in central Freetown and western rural.
Methodist Church Sierra Leone Development and Relief Agency is a non-governmental organisation 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 Programme (SFCDP) called Partners in Conflict Transformation (PICOT) in response to recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. With support from Namati, MCSL is currently providing paralegal services in three chiefdoms in the Bonthe district, namely Bendu-cha, Nongoba Bullom 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 employ over 70 staff who 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 Programme, Timap’s Community Mediation Programme is a partnership with the Sierra Leone government’s Justice Sector Development Programme and focuses on resolution of disputes at the community level through mediation. Timap’s pilot Criminal Justice Project established with support from the Open Society Justice Initiative’s “Global Campaign for Pretrial Justice”, 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.
5-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; their scale and sustainability; and their relationship to the state. The research draws on program case databases; interviews with paralegals lawyers, program staff; and other stakeholders; and legal-anthropological case tracking.
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.
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.
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.