WJP “Justice for Breakfast” on role of community paralegals

Advocate Anil Naidoo speaking during the Wits Justice Project's breakfast on community paralegals. (Photo: Hazel Meda)

Advocate Anil Naidoo speaking during the Wits Justice Project’s breakfast dialogue on community paralegals. (Photo: Hazel Meda)

A wide cross-section of stakeholders in the criminal justice system discussed the role of community paralegals at a “Justice for Breakfast” event at Wits University’s Graduate School for Public and Development Management (P&DM) on Wednesday 13 February 2013. The gathering was organised by P&DM and the Wits Justice Project (WJP).

Representatives of the Department of Justice, Legal Aid SA, the Law Society of South Africa, the National Alliance for the Development of Community Advice Offices (NADCAO) and other civil society organisations debated the pros and cons of community paralegals.

Winnie Kubayi of NADCAO  discusses a successful community paralegal programme in KwaZulu-Natal. (Photo: Hazel Meda)

Winnie Kubayi of NADCAO discusses a successful community paralegal programme in KwaZulu-Natal. (Photo: Hazel Meda)

The successful use of paralegals in other African countries was briefly discussed, with examples drawn from Malawi, Rwanda, Sierra Leone and Uganda.

Making the case for widespread use of paralegals in South Africa, some participants said community paralegals have an important role to play in alternative dispute resolution, which might relieve the caseload in South Africa’s overburdened courts.

Ivan Evans and Nkosingiphile Mafuze-Sijora of Nicro participated in the dialogue. (Photo: Hazel Meda)

Ivan Evans and Nkosingiphile Mafuze-Sijora of Nicro participated in the dialogue. (Photo: Hazel Meda)

Ivan Evans of the National Institute for Crime Prevention and Rehabilitation of Offenders (Nicro) said paralegals could help reduce overcrowding in remand centres, by doing something as simple as helping awaiting-trial detainees to contact relatives, who could then provide bail money.

Evans described a simple but effective Nicro project in the early 1990s, where young people volunteered to contact family members and then Legal Aid on behalf of remand detainees.

Richard Mokolo (extreme left) shares his experience as coordinator of community paralegals at the Orange Farm Human Rights Advice Centre (Photo: Hazel Meda)

Richard Mokolo (extreme left) shares his experience as coordinator of community paralegals at the Orange Farm Human Rights Advice Centre (Photo: Hazel Meda)

Some participants highlighted the lack of clarity in the definition and role of paralegals in South Africa, the need for reliable training, and the fact that paralegal activities appear to be unregulated. Another point of debate was whether the contribution of community paralegals should be recognised financially (in the form of a salary or stipend) or whether community paralegals should be unpaid volunteers.

Nooshin Erfani-Ghadimi of the Wits Justice Project and Catherine Moat of the Wits Graduate School of Public and Development Management, co-sponsors of the event. (Photo: Hazel Meda)

Nooshin Erfani-Ghadimi of the Wits Justice Project and Catherine Moat of the Wits Graduate School of Public and Development Management, co-sponsors of the event. (Photo: Hazel Meda)

WJP coordinator Nooshin Erfani-Ghadimi concluded the event by announcing plans to do more research into the socio-economic and financial benefits of introducing community paralegals into South Africa’s criminal justice system at critical nodes like courts and police stations.

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About witsjusticeproject
The Wits Justice Project combines journalism, advocacy, law and education to make the criminal justice system work better for all.

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