Poverty, low level of legal awareness and lack of legal services are key factors that isolate the rural population from the state legal system and justice. Legal needs in remote communities in the majority of cases remain unsatisfied, and the question of equal access to justice remains open. The need to expand access to justice creates a need for the involvement into raising legal awareness of persons who have no legal education, as law graduates typically seek work in large cities, where the creditworthiness of customers is much higher than in rural areas.
In order to help the poor in matters of clarification of the content of the laws, various administrative procedures, to conduct on their behalf negotiations for the preparation of procedure documents and to disseminate information materials around the world, the practice of paralegals is being introduced — persons who have no legal education, but went through special training designed to help members of local communities in the most typical issues.
Paralegals, sometimes also called "barefoot lawyers" (Ward Berenschot, Taufik Rinaldi) look for specific solutions to legitimate injustices in society. So, they are bridging the gap between law and real life.
Representatives of the state system of free legal aid consider that in local communities most likely the paralegals can be members of service organizations, bodies of local self-government or Executive authority, as well as law students. In addition, in some cases, social workers and volunteers can take the function, they are able to communicate with people who are in difficult life circumstances. Also legal consultations may be provided by employees of local libraries in remote villages, school teachers of law and local public opinion leaders (according to a survey of 100 employees of departments of interaction with entities providing primary legal assistance to local centers for secondary legal aid in all regions of Ukraine).
If professional lawyers resolve individual questions of their clients, paralegals always act as a community and help the community. Successful experiences of Indonesia, Kenya, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Hungary, England, USA, Canada, Australia, Nepal, Japan, South Korea and other countries shows how community paralegals can conduct advocacy campaign for the adaptation of legislation and local programs of local governments for the needs of local communities.
It is obvious that the fact of training and certification is not enough to convince the residents of the community in competence of paralegals. Thus, we can distinguish several factors that influence the development of such confidence.
The first one is the presence of partners from the legal environment that legitimize the status of local paralegals. It can be community-based organizations providing primary legal aid or engaged in restorative practices, the representatives of the legal business who are willing to help Pro Bono. Typically, these partners are respected in the community; however, they do not always have the opportunity to provide all residents with their services.
The second factor may be the interaction with local opinion leaders, for example, journalists. They, in addition to the positive presentation of paralegals can be a source of information about the pressing issues of the community.
The third factor (important for Ukraine) is the effective cooperation with local centers and the Bureau of secondary legal aid, which are financed by taxpayers but do not cover the whole territory of Ukraine and cannot meet all the legal needs of communities.
According to the survey of employees of local centres, and in particular, the departments of interaction with providers of free primary legal aid, the vast majority (98%) believe the need for cooperation with the paralegals in the community. In particular, 91% of 100 respondents believe that it is the most expedient way to communicate with the paralegals to educate communities about services of the state system of free legal aid in remote areas where there are not enough lawyers, and to disseminate information materials (85%). In addition, an important element of cooperation is the primary analysis of information obtained from a person, to identify the legal needs and referral to the local centre, if paralegal may not help to solve the problem on his/her own. Among other possibilities, proposed by the representatives of the centres to provide free legal aid, it was noted conducting joint educational activities in the community.
It is important to understand that paralegals do not compete in any way with legal aid providers in the region, they have a different mission. They are like conductors of vulnerable groups that previously had no access to justice, in the world of legal relations and law as justice.
In this case, due to paralegals being well aware of the problems of communities several significant advantages over the professional work of lawyers can be clearly identified:
- formation of interest in the community to solve its pressing problems. It also can happen the development of the community;
- application of creative solutions and strategies in legal matters, due to the awareness in local contexts;
- greater efficiency and mobility from the point of view of financial and time resources, which are spent substantially less on training of paralegals.
Currently in Ukraine there are separate short-term paralegal programs that are not linked. The formation of a paralegal network in the regions and their cooperation with professional legal community will allow to create much broader opportunities for access to justice and capacity development of local communities that currently remain largely unprotected.
1) Berenschot W., Rinaldi T. Paralegalism and Legal Aid in Indonesia: Enlarging the Shadow of the Law [Electronic resource] Berenschot Ward, Rinaldi Taufik // Survey Report. — Electronic data and program. – 2011. – Mode of access: http://namati.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/Paralegalism-and-Legal-Aid-in-Indonesia_Final-Report.pdf. — Title from the screen.
2) Community-based Paralegals: A Practitioner’s Guide [Electronic resource] / The Open Society Justice Initiative / Open Society Institute // New York. — Electronic data and program. – 2010. — Mode of access:https://www.opensocietyfoundations.org/sites/default/files/paralegal-guide-20101208.pdf. — Title from the screen.
Source: Ukrainian Legal Aid Foundation
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