Legal empowerment: Educating people on basic rights

PARALEGALS pose for a photo after a training on how to give services to ‘wananchi’ in Siha, Kilimanjaro Region.

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TENS of millions in Tanzania suffer because they lack access to justice-are unable to afford a lawyer and are also ignored by authorities, with their rights routinely violated, a report indicates.

The suffering could be highly endorsed by lack of legal recognition of paralegals, a move that slows down awareness on the services and legal aid among the population. Evidence shows that paralegals provide quality legal services for free, increasingly embark on legal education and empower individuals, groups and communities thus contributing to increased access to justice for poor people.

According to a survey carried out by Legal Service Facility (LSF) Tanzania, indicates that more than 70 per cent of Tanzanians have no idea what legal aid is, who and what the paralegals are and how they can assist with legal problems.

“Another much smaller survey done while implementing a pilot project named ‘Partnership for Change’ provided insight that even in wards where a group of five paralegals was working still more than 60 per cent of the ward population had no idea who paralegals were and what they were doing,” says Director Porgramme with LSF Ms Scholastica Jullu.

She says that a strong positive relationship with formal and informal local leaders and institutions is critical for the successful implementation of paralegal work that aims at creating legally empowered communities.

The move (legal recognition) will also be very instrumental and of importance in being accepted by local government authorities and others. “It will also in due course allow for generally accepted quality assurance of the paralegal function,” She notes and adds, “However, in most countries where successful paralegal programmes have been implemented this has been done without formal recognition of the paralegal function.”

Ms Jullu notes that also in Tanzania, paralegals is much smaller than at present have been functional and successful in dealing with case based on legal aid and a degree of legal education. “The LSF therefore perceives legal recognition of paralegals as desirable, highly useful and instrumental, but not as a pre-condition for the success of the programme,” she says.

Another challenge is that only 12 per cent of the population in the country states to have been exposed to some form of legal education. “This is a clear indication that there still is a long way to go to increase the awareness about the rights and plights of the people in Tanzania,” she notes. Encouraging, however is that, paralegals already play a major positive in the process of increasing knowledge and awareness.

“In 2015 alone, more than 210,000 Tanzanians have been reached with human rights awareness building and legal education activities by paralegals,” she says adding that it is expected that in 2018 the benchmark of half a million persons annually reached with legal education will be achieved.

The LSF Officer says that the present cadres of around 4,000 paralegals who are operational in all the Districts of Tanzania area each year making a positive difference in the lives of tens of thousands of poor people.

In the period 2016-2020, Ms Jullu says that the LSF will continue to support and expand the paralegals work in the country in close collaboration with legal aid providers as implementing partners , the government of Tanzania and other stakeholders.

“Community paralegals are the front line of the legal aid brigade, but in a comprehensive legal aid provision approach they do require the back-up and support from lawyers employed by larger legal aid provides,” she adds.

Through a targeted grant making approach, the LSF have succeeded with its partners to ensure that basic legal services by community paralegals have been set up in all districts (158 at the end of 2015) of Tanzania.

In at least 120 of these districts there were previously no legal services at all. This means a major boost have been done provided to the availability and accessibility of legal services for people in need of basic legal assistance.

Community paralegals in Tanzania work as volunteers and provide their services free of charge. “The job description of a paralegal is not in first instance focusing on application of legal expertise, but is more skills, organization and community interaction based,” says Ms Jullu.

She says that a major objective of paralegal services is to increase everyday justice for everyday problems. Most everyday problems will never reach the formal justice system whether addressed by paralegals or not. Paralegals’ main aim is working hard towards better informing the population about their rights as a first step in the direction of legal empowerment.

They deal with issues relating to land, matrimony, child maintenance, gender based violence and crime. They do this by providing counseling, mediation and conciliation in disputes that people face, while additionally and strongly focusing on human rights awareness building persons that sought the assistance of paralegals for grievances and disputes.

According to the LSF, the total cases reported to the paralegals indicate that, matrimonial disputes that currently stand at 23 per cent constitute a major fraction of all the cases reported as land disputes constitutes 22 per cent .

The LSF notes that the highest cases reported by men are land disputes that stand at 29 per cent, matrimonial (15 per cent) and criminal cases that stand at 13 per cent.

For women, the LSF says that the specific cases are matrimonial (29 per cent), land disputes with 16 per cent and child maintenance with 14 per cent. Since its establishment in 2011, the LSF has contributed to promotion and protection of human rights for all with an emphasis on poor women and other vulnerable groups.

“Through its partners it enhance the quality of legal aid and paralegal services where presently the facility provides funding for activities toward legal empowerment in all districts of Tanzania” notes the report. In its four years of existence in the country, the LSF among others, has funded the selection, training and operations of a legal assistance frontline of around 4,000 paralegals.

The LSF channels funding to organizations which provide legal aid and paralegal service in Tanzania Mainland and Zanzibar. Through the services individuals and communities are assisted to ensure their rights are observed, grievances redressed, disputes resolved and that fundamental human rights protected.

The facility works closely with the government at all levels, development partners, organizations involved in the provision of legal aid including paralegal services and other stakeholders.

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