Strengthening Access to Justice for Children and Youth in East Africa – Naivasha, Kenya 2013

Enashipai Spa & Lodge, Naivasha, Kenya, site of the conference.

Enashipai Spa & Lodge, Naivasha, Kenya, site of the conference. ANN MCRAE

On the third day of the conference on the rights of children and youth, participants from Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda listened with rapt attention as Emily Chan distributed and commented on educational materials on the rights of children and youth. Emily outlined her tips for making sure that one’s efforts get to the right people, using the most attractive and appropriate medium, and that they are understood by the intended audience. Each national working group brought its own samples, to compare and discuss. Much of the material prepared for youth in Ontario resonated with East African professionals working with youth in the justice system, in corrections, in probation services and state prosecutor offices. Piles of samples melted away faster than ice cream in the African sun.

Canadian Bar Association SAJCEA Project Director Darren Thorne, flanked by the Canadian Bar Association's Needs Assessment Specialist Mary Marrone (far left), and CBA Gender Issues Specialist Elizabeth Wilson, with Margaret Mbsiro from Cradle, an NGO supporting children's rights, and, at far right, specialist in Public Legal Education in children's issues Emily Chan.

Canadian Bar Association SAJCEA Project Director Darren Thorne, flanked by the Canadian Bar Association’s Needs Assessment Specialist Mary Marrone (far left), and CBA Gender Issues Specialist Elizabeth Wilson, with Margaret Mbsiro from Cradle, an NGO supporting children’s rights, and, at far right, specialist in Public Legal Education in children’s issues Emily Chan. ANN MCRAE

In the afternoon Ann McRae gave a presentation on the use of non-lawyers in service delivery in Legal Aid Ontaro’s environment. Each of the terms “paralegal” and “community legal worker” has a significantly different meaning in East Africa from the ways those terms are used in Ontario. Two of the three participating countries are discussing the issues associated with paralegal regulation. Conference participants echoed the concerns that drove the process of paralegal regulation in Ontario a decade ago: quality of work, discipline, restrictions on practice, educational processes.

Almost all community legal workers in East Africa are volunteers. Most non-lawyers in the criminal justice system work for the state prosecutor or for Non-Government agencies working with accused or convicted persons. The term “paralegal” has a variety of meanings, which shift from one country to another. This adds to the difficulty of agreeing on who is to subject to regulation, and what level of education is required.

Representatives spoke on the range of duties and roles to which the term “paralegal” is applied in their countries. They bemoaned the poor performance by some “bush lawyers”, which causes paralegals to be held in low esteem. They laughed over the anomalies in their own legal structures (some of which have Canadian parallels), and confusion which the word generates in their own law societies.

Resources for legal services are much more scarce in East Africa than in Canada. Funding sometimes comes from donor governments and foundations. Non-lawyers are an essential element in the effort to extend services to areas of deep need and to areas of remote geography in a cost-effective way. Primarily, non-lawyer services in urban areas serve to explain the law to accused persons, assist with bail, explain police process and the law, both before and after conviction.

Kenyan Deputy Attorney General making closing remarks

Kenyan Deputy Attorney General making her closing remarks to the conference. ANN MCRAE

The Deputy Attorney General of Kenya closed the conference by conveying the appreciation and encouragement of the Attorney General, for the shared work of improving the welfare of children and youth.

Ann McRae is the Director of Legal Services at the Rexdale Community Legal Clinic, Toronto ON, Canada.

Mary Marrone is the Director of Advocacy and Legal Services at the Income Security Advocacy Centre, Toronto ON, Canada.

Emily Chan is the Community Development Lawyer with Justice for Children and Youth, Toronto ON, Canada.

Darren Thorne is the Canadian Project Director for Strengthening Access to Justice for Children and Youth in East Africa, Ottawa ON, Canada.

Elizabeth Wilson is the Manager of Operations and Gender Programing with the Canadian Bar Association’s International Development Committee, Ottawa ON, Canada.

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