Zambian paralegals working to bridge entry to justice hole

LUSAKA, April 24 (Xinhua). Many of the poor and vulnerable communities across Zambia have long viewed access to justice as a reserve of the elite and privileged in society.

To this end, many people were often denied justice because they could not afford the services of a lawyer.

This situation is slowly changing, however, as trainee lawyers come on board who now offer a range of legal services to the country’s needy and marginalized populations.

In Zambia, paralegals are people who have received basic training in law and human rights. They can be found in townships and villages, in prisons and police stations, or at legal advice centers run by civil society organizations.

They work to provide free legal aid to members of the public, most of whom are poor. The primary role of paralegal is to provide basic legal training, legal information, mediation, guidance, and referrals.

While some work in established law firms, most of them belong to organizations affiliated with the Paralegal Alliance Network (PAN), an umbrella organization that provides coordination services to legal aid providers in Zambia.

For many low-income communities in Zambia, the term paralegal is now synonymous with access to justice, as lawyers play an important role in ensuring access to justice for vulnerable populations.

Talks with beneficiaries of free legal aid services offered by paralegals in Lusaka, capital of Zambia, and in Kabwe, central Zambia, showed that communities are increasingly appreciating the work of these foot soldiers.

Case in point is 20-year-old Margan Mulenga, a young farmer in rural Kabwe, who shared how a law firm helped him reclaim property that was stolen from him after his father’s death.

Mulenga said a lawyer helped him understand what the law is in a situation like his. After Mulenga learned his claims, he went to court to appeal, which resulted in his regaining his legacy.

And Monica Zulu, a small trader based in Lusaka, said a lawyer helped her secure the support of her two children, whose father had given up his responsibilities.

Zulu told how a lawyer arranged a meeting with the father of their two children, which resulted in him (the father) agreeing to take responsibility.

“It has been two years and my children’s father has provided support ever since,” revealed an enthusiastic Zulu.

Tomaida Ziba, a paralegal based in Chipata, Eastern Zambia, notes that more and more people are learning about their rights through the many contact programs run by paralegals.

“We now have a lot of people reporting human rights violations in the Eastern Province. That was not the case a decade ago. The communities are now aware of a number of human rights issues,” said Ziba, an officer for women in the Eastern Province Development Association .

She added that the presence of legal officers working hand-in-hand with local authorities in rural areas has also enabled rural communities to prevent a range of child and women’s rights violations that are common in low-income settings occurrence.

Sefelino Mangimela, a law firm that works with the Prison Care and Counseling Association, said that the judicial system, and the courts in particular, are less congested as mediation and negotiation services are offered to paralegals across the country.

“Many members of the public are now aware that not every case has to be brought to court. Some disputes can be resolved through mediation and negotiation. This alone helps to relieve the judicial system,” said Mangimela.

He was quick to point out, however, that while trainee lawyers are able to provide a range of free legal assistance services that would otherwise be paid for in certain situations, they do not take the place of qualified lawyers who are legally required to hire a person to represent before a court.

Mangimela’s views were confirmed by his Royal Highness Chief Chikwanda from Chikwanda Village, Mpika District, Northern Zambia, who further indicated that human rights education programs help bring about desirable changes in rural areas by encouraging people to participate in development processes.

“The Chikwanda Gender Justice Foundation, an initiative of the royal administration, has decided to include paralegals in their programs. This has worked well for the community in terms of promoting human rights and development. To that end, we have reduced a number of Gender identified cases of head violence, “revealed the traditional leader.

Paralegal Alliance Network Coordinator Phillip Sabuni reiterated the fact that many members of the public are becoming aware of the services offered by paralegals, as evidenced by the increase in the number of people seeking help from paralegal desks across the country.

“It is good to note that paralegals in Zambia are now recognized by both law and legal aid policy. The recognition shows that their work is of great help to the judicial system and communities,” said Sabuni.

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