Paralegal Advisory Service Institute (PASI) has quashed fears that the incorporation of paralegals to represent the poor in the lower courts would compromise the legal system.
The remarks were made Wednesday at Mponela- Dowa during a panel discussion on the Role of Paralegals in the Promotion of Access to Justice in Malawi.
This comes amidst a legal wrangle between Malawi Law Society (MLS) and Legal Aid Bureau over the amendment of the Legal Aid Act.
PASI National Director, Clifford Msiska, told journalists in an interview after the panel discussion that the importance and role of paralegals in the justice system cannot be overemphasised.
He described paralegals as important in as far as access to justice, especially amongst the poor, is concerned. He said paralegals are there to support lawyers and not replace them.
He said most poor people live in villages and cannot access lawyers’ services whose fees are exorbitant for a poor man and that’s where paralegals come in because they are closer to the people.
“Currently, there is a criminal justice system crisis in the country as the poor lack representation.
“There is need to incorporate them to provide supporting role in legal issues, hence helping in addressing the crisis,” he said.
Msiska further observed that training of paralegals is not an issue but what people don’t understand is how paralegals work, hence the need for public awareness.
Legal Aid Bureau Director, Masauko Chamkalala said paralegals have assisted the bureau in research for the past six years and that they can do more than what they do now.
He concurred with Msiska that there is a criminal justice system crisis which, he said, some people cannot see it.
“We do not have enough technicians in the field of law to tackle legal issues. We need to recognise that we have a problem which needs a solution.
“Paralegals are not replacing lawyers’ services but addressing the current challenges,” said Chamkalala.
Malawi Human Right Commission (MHRC) Commissioner and Human Rights Lawyer, Chikondi Chijozi, said paralegals will balance up the gap created by inadequate lawyers in the country.
Paralegals have been representing the poor in police and prisons where they conduct screening exercise for the suspects.
PASI, with financial support from the European Union (EU) and United Nations Development Program (UNDP) is implementing the “Chilungamo – Access to Justice through Village Mediation and Paralegal Services Project.”
The aim is to provide a cost-effective, efficient and inclusive approach to increasing access to justice by the poor and vulnerable groups, especially women and children, through provision of a national paralegal aid and village mediation services.
In 2019, PASI signed a memorandum of understanding with the judiciary, Malawi Police Service, Malawi Prison Service and the Legal Aid Bureau.Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :