Over 100 paralegals from 47 counties in Kenya and human rights defenders convened to celebrate the critical role and contribution that paralegal support networks play in raising legal awareness and supporting access to justice for all, at a regional forum held in Nairobi.
The two-day summit which was held from 20th-21st September, 2021 at Kenya School of Monetary Studies underscored the need to recognize the crucial role paralegals play in providing community based legal services to the indigent in order to access justice. It was also anchored on the need to draw up a roadmap for the operations of paralegals with a view to maximize the benefits derived from the services they render in justice administration especially in rural communities.
The 2021 Annual Paralegal Summit was organized by Kituo Cha Sheria in conjunction with the Paralegal Society of Kenya (PSK), Legal Resources Foundation, and International Community of Jurists- Kenyan Chapter and Ecumenical Centre for Peace and Justice. The event was supported by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom of Netherlands, Mott Foundation and UNDP under a joint objective to strengthen the rule of law and promoting access to justice.
The summit addressed pertinent issues affecting paralegals key among them: Para legalism amidst the Covdi-19 Pandemic, accreditation of paralegals and qualification to be a paralegal, clarifications on the Legal Aid Act, 2016, accreditation of paralegals, development of a syllabus for paralegal training by the PSK and clear outline of the duties of a Paralegal and their work ethics.
Held at a time when the Kenya government is being called upon to develop appropriate policies and legislation to guarantee effective access to justice for all, the highly interactive forum provided a platform for collaboration with expert-led discussions to help identify and expose different views, peer-to-peer learning and exchange of best practices.
Despite the increasing recognition of their role, paralegals face numerous challenges such as a lack of standardized training and professional standards, and an inability to fully exercise their mandate because of limited recognition of their role from formal justice actors.
“Advocates and paralegals complement each other, today the judiciary, executive, legislature, constitutional commissions and independent officers, professional institutions like the Law Society of Kenya cannot ignore, assume or operate without the complementary role of paralegals as legal aid providers, human rights defenders, activists, legal educators and counsellors.” Said Jedidah Wakonyo Waruhiu, Commissioner Emeritus
Commissioner Emeritus Jedidiah who was the key note speaker during the summit encouraged paralegals not to downplay their contribution in the society both at community and policy level. She affirmed this point by proudly stating that between 2005 and 2010, paralegals were engaged in the Constitution Making Project in which the paralegal approach was used in consolidating Chapter 4 of the Constitution 2021, the Bill of Rights.
With the registration and launch of the newly rebranded PSK, the Commissioner Emeritus called for all to celebrate the remarkable moment, which has been 21 years in the making.
She explained what she sees as PSK’s remarkable future using 3 O’s:
- ORGANISE: PSK must continue to organize itself using the various administrative structures which are policy, development and financial strategy points. PSK must organize itself into a paralegal movement nationally and regionally. This organization at all levels from the village to the state will enable paralegals to promote and protect accountability, transparency, human dignity and sustainable development for all by engaging both state and non-state actors.
- OPPURTUNITIES: She encouraged the paralegals to use the summit to network and affirmed the role of paralegals play in sustainable development. Encouraged paralegals not to be left behind in the digital space but use technology to enhance access to justice
- BE ORIGINAL: she encouraged paralegals to have a brand, a symbol. Paralegals, must create own identity and brand. Just like lawyers have their identity in the way they talk and they dress in dark suits, so should paralegals!
While address the paralegals on the use of strategic public interest litigation in enhancing access to justice, Dr Annette Mbogoh, Executive Director Kituo Cha Sheria challenged the paralegals to identify, take up a case and collect information and follow it up. She stated that to do PIL cases you don’t have to be a lawyer, and article 21 of the COK, opens up the courts to all citizens. All paralegals by a show of hands committed to at least take up a case.
“Strategic litigation is a practical way for paralegals and public interest lawyers to promote access to justice. It not only seeks redress for the client, but also aims to prevent similar injustices from occurring to others in like circumstances in the future, it often sires precedents, empower the clients and advance the rights of the marginalised. Strategic litigation enables Community Justice centres through the paralegals to speak out about unfair laws and expose inequalities in the legal systems” Said Dr. Annette.
Hon. Justus Munyithya- Board Chair, Kituo cha Sheria on the other hand encouraged paralegals to take advantage of the networking opportunity presented by the conference that will enhance access to justice for the community and legal centres represented. He also called on all guests to stand together to fight for the citizens they represent as presenting a united front, would prevent and minimise attacks often lodged on paralegals.
“It is important for everyone to know the strengths of each civil society organization represented in this summit and, the impact they have in enhancing access to justice. This would enable participants and other stakeholder present to map possible areas of collaboration.” Said Mr Munyithya
Mr. Munyithya was happy to note a strategic plan has been put in place and applauded the Legal Aid Act and realisation of paralegals as key players is a milestone in the Access to Justice Journey. Concluded by reminding all paralegals that “As human rights defenders we should all stand for each other.”
In her presentation on how use of information technology has impacted access to justice with a focus on persons in places of detention, Agnes Rogo, Ag. Executive Director LRF encouraged paralegals to explore awareness-raising and legal education initiatives using ICTs include: using television and radio talk shows to build links between the formal and informal justice systems; broadcasting documentaries on local TV and radio stations to promote gender equality. She expounded on the Use of online courts and issues emerging from the courts and the community.
Elsie Sainna, Executive Director ICJ-Kenya in her presentation on the progress of paralegal laws and policies stated that the Constitution of Kenya Art 48 is the implementing article for the work of paralegalism that provides the grounds as to the work that we do. She added that paralegalism has looked into policies but also pushes for the formation of new laws in the case that there are vacuums.
“Paralegals were not accepted and they faced quite some challenges in the course of their work. That kept paralegals on their toes to come up with ways of ensuring Paralegals were accepted and could practice without fear or intimidation” Said Elsie
In doing so paralegals pushed for a law that would recognize Paralegals and that’s how the Legal Aid Act came to being. she further added that Paralegals and especially PSK also pushed for Small Claims Courts Act which gives opportunities to Paralegals. Also pending is the Courts of Petty Sessions. Further, financial, administrative and legal framework have been afforded. Globally we are anchored in the UN framework. Right to fair trial amongst others read in line with Art 11 of UNDHR. SDG 16 on access to justice.
Antony Njenga a paralegal from Kibera Justice Centre with 12 years’ experience as a community paralegal stated that paralegal movement is driven by volunteerism, love and care for the community. According to Antony, to ensure sustainability, paralegals need to be credible, trustworthy and ethical. They should rise to new challenges so as to remain relevant and embrace change.
“From his own perspective, Paralegals should be educators, they should be curious to learn, they should read. They should impart knowledge. Justice centres should be viewed as access centres not just to legal aid but to general information that affects the general public.” Stated Antony
The learning forum culminated with Kituo Annual Paralegal Awards (KAPA awards) a glamorous gala dinner to celebrate the achievements of paralegals and para-wakilis from across Kenya.