Community paralegal

Implementation Area: Mombasa County
Target Population: General community

“Legal empowerment is about strengthening the capacity of all people to exercise their rights, either as individuals or as members of a community. It’s about grassroots justice—about ensuring that law is not confined to books or courtrooms, but rather is available and meaningful to ordinary people.”
Access to justice is expressly provided for in Article 48 which obligates the state to “…ensure access to justice for all persons…”. It is important that this clarification has been made because it means that even those suspected of having committed criminal offences have a right to justice. The practise has always been that once suspected and arrested, the police and/or the public consider you as one who does not deserve justice. In Kenya cases of public beating suspected criminals to death and/or police shooting down suspected criminals are rampant.
Article 50 states that, “every person has the right to … a fair and public hearing before a court… or another independent and impartial tribunal or body”. This article is supported by sub articles that support pre-trial justice including right to be presumed innocent, to have adequate time and facilities to prepare a defence, to have the trial begin and conclude without unreasonable delay and to choose, and be represented by, an advocate, and to be informed of this right promptly. All these provisions are necessary in the promotion of pre-trial justice and through this project Stretchers Youth Organization has been working with paralegals and justice actors to ensure that these rights are enjoyed to the fullest.

A number of people have difficulty accessing justice in Kenya. In communities throughout the Mombasa County, people struggle with legal issues related to housing, family, debt, crime, property, and other matters that affect their well-being. Those who are poor, geographically isolated, or otherwise vulnerable often cannot obtain assistance in solving their justice problems. They may suffer under discriminatory laws or lack the legal means to enforce norms that should protect them. Community-based paralegal programs help such communities that lack access to the legal system resolve their justice issues. Particularly in the informal settlements, lawyers—who are typically concentrated in population centers and commercial hubs—often cannot meet the demand for justice services. Community-based paralegals represent a paradigmatic shift in the delivery of legal services. Although community-based paralegals perform some of the same tasks as lawyers, they offer many distinct advantages, including: Community-based paralegals can focus on the justice needs of an entire community, not just the client who hires them. They can often resolve the issue much faster than lawyers and judges can. It is much easier and less expensive to train and deploy paralegals than lawyers. Community-based paralegals often know the community they serve and its needs better than a lawyer would

Under this program we are working with 30 trained community paralegal that provide legal services to community members at the police office, courts and at the community setting. The services being provide are legal advice, screening clients, tracing files and relatives and liaising with justice actors on specific matters. Within the organization we have legal aid desk that is open for community members who seek for any legal aid services. We also conduct street law community outreaches targeting community members raising their awareness on matters of the law. The paralegals also go out to communities and hold legal literacy sessions in schools, mosques, churches, streets and in opportunistic gatherings such as chief’s barazas. This leads to increased access to justice in the Community and well-structured working relationship between the local administration and community paralegals.