Legal Aid Ontario Blog – What can Canadian lawyers contribute to a legal conference in Kenya?

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What can Canadian lawyers contribute to a legal conference in Kenya?

October 30, 2013

By Ann McRae

This question initially crossed my mind when I was invited to speak about the use of paralegals in delivery of legal services. Conference organizers felt that as an Ontario legal aid lawyer, I had much knowledge and experience to share with conference participants. Through research and preparation, I came to learn how much Ontario’s legal aid structure and administration of justice has useful lessons for other jurisdictions.

In partnership with law societies from Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya, the Canadian Bar Association (CBA) is providing support and resources to a conference titled “Supporting Access to Justice for Children and Youth in East Africa”. The topics at the three-day event have been chosen to meet the needs and interests of the law societies, judges, court administrators, policy makers and non-government agencies, all of whom are working to improve the awareness and protections of children’s rights in the participating East African countries. A small group of Canadians are sprinkled into the panels and presentations to provide a unique and more established perspective.

The CBA has sponsored three Toronto clinic lawyers to cover three topics at the event taking place in Naivasha, Kenya, from October 29 to October 31. Mary Marrone, Director of Legal Services at the Income Security Advocacy Centre will speak on “The how and why of community engagement in needs assessments – strategies.” Emily Chan, Community Development Lawyer at Justice for Children and Youth will give a presentation on “Public Legal Education for Children and Youth”. As Director of Legal Services at the Rexdale Community Legal Clinic, my talk will be on “Strengthening Access to Justice through Non-Lawyers in the Canadian Legal Aid System”. I plan to focus on the use of paralegals in legal service delivery, including staff offices and community legal workers at clinics.

Ontario enjoys a better-funded judicial system and a better-funded scheme of legal assistance than many around the world. In other jurisdictions, particularly those in developing countries, duty counsel and community legal assistance is provided mostly by pro bono lawyers or non-government agencies. The quality and accessibility of these services varies widely. The structure and range of services offered by Legal Aid Ontario is of great interest to our counterparts in East Africa, and we are looking forward to sharing our knowledge and experience with them.

At the end of three days with the African delegates, we will learn what parts of the Ontario experience are most valuable in an East African context, and undoubtedly bring home valuable lesson to share.

Ann McRae is the Director of Legal Services at the Rexdale Community Legal Clinic. 

Legal Aid Ontario Blog

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

Conference attendees gathered at the end of day one.

Conference attendees gathered at the end of day one. FACEBOOK / AARON BESIGYE, UGANDA LAW SOCIETY

Legal experts are meeting in Naivasha, Kenya, this week to discuss strengthening access to justice for children and youth in East Africa. The forum, organized by Supporting Access to Justice for Children and Youth in East Africa (SAJCEA), the Canadian Government, and the Canadian Bar Association, is joined by our own Director of Legal Services, Ann McRae. She took some time today to let us know how the first day of the conference shaped up:

The conference began on the bus trip along the rift valley: participants from East African countries had gathered with the Canadian visitors at the offices of the Kenya Law Society in Nairobi. Lively conversations had already begun before the bus was loaded for the trip to Lake Naivasha, the conference site.

Legal aid here is largely provided by pro bono lawyers, or by non-government agencies (NGOs).

The focus of this conference is the protection of the rights of children and young people in the criminal justice process, as well as other areas of law. What legal services are available are a combined effort of the bar, the governments and partner agencies. The result is a patchwork with many gaps, with great variation from one country to the next. For example, some “legal clinics” and “community legal workers” exist, but often not working with lawyers.

Mary Marrone (Income Support Advocacy Centre) and Aaron Besigye (Uganda Law Society)

Mary Marrone (Income Support Advocacy Centre) and Aaron Besigye (Uganda Law Society) ANN MCRAE

Kenya has a new constitution as of 2010, and with that comes new social and political priorities. Efforts of projects like this one are needed to extend legal and constitutional protections to the most vulnerable. Today the East African working groups are reporting on progress so far in their respective countries (Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda), whether on law reforms, coordinated training for paralegals or access to government supports. Tomorrow Mary Marrone, Income Support Advocacy Centre, leads a discussion on needs assessment as an essential phase in any planning for change and improvement of access to justice. Later in the conference, Emily Chan, Justice for Children and Youth, will share techniques and best practices in public legal education on access to justice for children. A panel on the use of paralegals, on the third day, will give Ann McRae of Rexdale Community Legal Clinic (Legal Aid Ontario) an opportunity to compare the Ontario model with those of other jurisdictions.

A visit to the conference grounds by three hippos on the first evening was a slight distraction.

Hippo in the water

STOCK PHOTO SXC.HU

Everyone at Rexdale Community Legal Clinic is proud and excited that Ann is joining this international group of experts deliberating on Access to Justice for youth in East Africa. Access to Justice is a world-wide issue, and was a major focus of the Canadian Bar Association’s 2013 Canadian Legal Conference in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. We look forward to hearing more from Ann in the coming days.

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 in Toronto ON, Canada.

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

Aaron Besigye is an Advocate with the Legal Aid Project of the Uganda Law Society, Kampala, Uganda.

External Links:
Daily National (Kenya): Children’s rights conference set for Naivasha