Over 30 paralegals from Kenya, South Sudan, Somalia and Uganda as well as various community justice experts convened to advocate for the critical role and contribution that paralegal support networks play in raising legal awareness and supporting access to justice for all, at a regional forum held in Nairobi on July 22-25, 2019.
The forum was organized by IDLO under the Strategic Investment to Advance SDG 16 2019 program supported by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom of Netherlands under a joint objective to strengthen the rule of law.
Held at a time when states are being called upon to develop appropriate policies and legislation to guarantee effective access to justice for all, the highly interactive forum provided a platform for collaboration with expert-led discussions to help identify and expose different views, peer-to-peer learning and exchange of best practices.
In most African regions, including East Africa and the Horn of Africa, paralegals play a critical role in alternative justice systems. As IDLO's country manager for Somalia, Adam-Shirwa Jama, said in his address to the Forum delegates: “Civil matters congest the criminal justice systems and should be dealt with at other platforms such as alternative dispute resolution (ADR) and through paralegal work. This creates a niche for paralegals”.
Kelvin Mogeni from the Kenya Paralegal Support Network added: “Paralegals are a critical pillar in enhancing access to justice through public education and free legal services in remote and marginalized areas with largely illiterate populations who do not know their rights.”
However, despite this increasing recognition of their role, paralegals face numerous challenges such as a lack of standardized training and professional standards and an inability to fully exercise their mandate because of limited recognition of their role from formal justice actors. “Advocates and paralegals complement each other and as such, it is important that we seek to work together and not compete against each other,” said Nazima Malik from the National Legal Aid Services of Kenya.
The discussions revolved around the need to recognize the role of paralegals in promoting access to justice in local communities, strengthen the capacity of existing paralegal support networks at both national and regional levels, promote the adoption of adequate policy and legislation, international best practices and practical approaches, and strengthen the linkages between formal and alternative justice systems in promoting equal access to justice.
Among the outcomes of the conference, a declaration was adopted containing 10 resolutions to promote and enhance paralegals’ capacity to help the most vulnerable and marginalized groups in local communities to access justice.
The peer-to-peer learning and sharing of experiences of various participants from Somalia (Mogadishu and Puntland), Uganda, Kenya and South Sudan will inform the development of knowledge products on the provision of legal aid services through ADR institutions and the effectiveness of ADR Centers.