International Development Law Organization

Regional Practitioner Dialogue: Community Paralegals, Customary and Informal Justice Systems, and New Pathways to People-Centred Justice

Tuesday, 31 August 2021 | 9:00 – 13:00 CEST

Regional Practitioner Dialogue: Community Paralegals, Customary and Informal Justice Systems, and New Pathways to People-Centred Justice

By one estimate, informal actors such as customary leaders resolve approximately 80 to 90 percent of justice problems in the Global South. In order to increase access to and quality of justice in such contexts, it is important to harness the potential of customary and informal justice (CIJ) systems and, at the same time, respond to the specific challenges associated with those systems.

Given their access to and familiarity with customary or traditional laws and community cultural and power dynamics, community paralegals are uniquely well-placed to support justice seekers in engaging with CIJ systems. Indeed, they often have important roles in providing legal aid services to marginalized groups and in bridging the gap between formal and CIJ systems by undertaking a number of different activities at the local level. However, paralegals often face a number of obstacles in their daily work which can negatively impact their ability to achieve change at the community level. These challenges are exacerbated in fragile and conflict affected settings and may include: gaps in legal and policy frameworks; the absence of national legal aid coordination bodies and standardized accreditation and training; insufficient capacity, resources and limited sustainability of paralegal programs; and lack of standardized data collection and reporting systems aimed at monitoring how cases are handled at the community level.

Against this backdrop, the aim of the Regional Practitioner Dialogue is to foster peer review and learning amongst African paralegal service providers and other relevant stakeholders on improving access to justice through CIJ systems. The Dialogue will bring together paralegals, development practitioners, experts, legal aid organization representatives and CIJ actors to facilitate a rich exchange fueled by different perspectives, as well as learning from different experiences. Participants in the Dialogue will share experiences and reflect on what works to:

  • Advance the role of community paralegals in strengthening or supporting CIJ mechanisms, including addressing local power dynamics and potential tensions between legal and justice actors
  • Build strategic linkages and coordination among community paralegals and other legal and justice actors and leverage resources for sustainability of paralegal programs
  • Ensure adequate legal and policy frameworks regulating paralegal activities in the context of CIJ systems
  • Promote minimum standards in the operation of CIJ mechanisms, including protection for human rights and procedural safeguards for women and vulnerable groups
  • Foster accountability and transparency through data collection and monitoring of paralegal and CIJ activities at the community level




A concept note and agenda are available for download below.

Photo credit: © Annie Spratt / Unsplash