Community Paralegals and the Pursuit of Justice
Published 28/02/2019 by Romauld Johnson
A new book edited by Vivek Maru and Varun Gauri examines how paralegals help communities to take on injustice, from domestic violence to unlawful mining to denial of wages. Focusing on experiences in six countries the book examines the important role of community in resolving legal issues.
As the first book on this subject matter, it addresses fundamental questions such as:
- How have community paralegals adapted to and influenced their changing political contexts, from repressive regimes like apartheid South Africa to newfound democracies and, in some cases, back towards repression?
- Is it possible for paralegals to receive public funding without sacrificing their independence?
- What are five qualities of the most effective paralegals, and how can organisations nurture those qualities?
Reviews have described the book as a must-read for anyone who believes in the urgency and vitality of the goal of access to justice and wants to understand how it could be achieved. The book is said to provide evidence that investment in paralegal organisations can not only pay significant dividends for the poor but can improve the accessibility, capacity and accountability of justice systems themselves.
The use of communities to support, and in some cases deliver, access to justice is something we’ve highlighted before. It’s becoming increasingly relevant in the UK as more and more evidence shows that prominent members of the local community are often the first port of call for someone with legal and non legal issues alike.
The research findings in the book explain that paralegals utilise six broad approaches, including mediation, monitoring and advocacy. They demystify law – to transform it from something abstract and intimidating into something that people can understand, use and shape. The book centres its analysis around six countries: Indonesia, Kenya, Liberia, Philippines, Sierra Leone and South Africa.
The book asserts that the paralegal’s approach differs from other institutions. They understand that legal awareness by itself is usually insufficient and will walk clients toward a solution. Their mediation processes differ from that of local dispute resolution providers as they are able to inject legal information. Exploring their findings from research groups in the different countries, the book’s discussions address (but not limited to) how paralegals enhance mediation, a role in the culture of participation in a society, strengthening the rule of law and democracy by equipping the public to use and shape he law, but also the scepticism and suspicion towards community-oriented paralegals.