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

kenya

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. 

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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.

Paralegal Amanda Bitton: Proud to be a full-time advocate for refugee claimants

LAO newsroom

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Paralegal Amanda Bitton is proud to be a full-time advocate for refugee claimants

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Licensed paralegal Amanda Bitton has been “excited, proud and nervous” ever since Rexdale Community Legal Centre hired her in July to support refugee claimants on a full-time basis.

She’s very aware that her new job — providing frontline services to these vulnerable clients — is part of a Legal Aid Ontario (LAO) pilot agreement to fund the cost of hiring her, and demonstrate LAO’s commitment to the appropriate use of licensed paralegals.

So she sometimes loses sleep thinking of the responsibility she’s taken on.

 Amanda Bitton

High quality services are paramount

“As a regulated professional who must meet the licensing requirements of the Law Society of Upper Canada, this is an important opportunity to demonstrate that my experience, training and ethics will result in high quality services. That’s what will be paramount,” she says. “The stakes are high for me because everybody is watching. But my main concern is that they are even higher for my clients.”

Amanda’s education includes a four-year degree in political science at McMaster University. However, she actually started working at the Rexdale Community Legal Clinic while she was still a student of Humber College’s two-year Paralegal Education program, from which she graduated in June 2012.

Amanda applied to the Rexdale Community Legal Centre while she was still at Humber, to provide her with work hours toward the mandatory 14-week paid work term that’s part of Humber’s licensing requirements for students in this diploma program.

She hearts Rexdale

Her work placement at Rexdale, followed by employment there between August 2012 and January 2013, gave her experience in helping out at reception and attending intakes, hearings and interviews.

“By the end of that placement, I knew there was nowhere else I wanted to work,” she says. “I just love this clinics’ underlying philosophy of trusting colleagues and clients to come up with the most effective resolutions through working together in collaboration.”

What appealed to her most? “Clients would come in, throw a bunch of papers they couldn’t make sense of onto the desk, and ask for assistance,” she explains. “I loved being able to help people determine which issues they needed to deal with to move forward, to represent them before administrative tribunals such as the Landlord and Tenant Board, and to see them walk away and feel a bit easier about their lives.”

Amanda kept coming in as a volunteer once her paid placement at Rexdale was over, and cheerfully took on even the most basic tasks. When the prospect of applying for the refugee pilot arose, she began studying the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, signed up for training on refugee law, began attending conferences on the subject, and asked to job-shadow LAO’s refugee lawyers.

Passion, a positive attitude and an astute legal mind

“We hired her because of her passion, positive attitude, commitment to our clients and incredibly astute legal mind,” recalls LAO’s Jayne Mallin, who headed up Rexdale’s legal clinic at the time.

“We had recognized very early on in Amanda’s placement, through her handling of intake and while assisting with research and factum writing – where her legal analysis was always accurate, thoughtful, and solution focused – that she is a very high quality paralegal.”

Today Amanda’s responsibilities include interviewing refugee claimants, helping them fill in the forms they need to complete to apply for refugee status in Canada, and representing these vulnerable individuals, under the supervision of a lawyer, at the Refugee Protection Division (RPD) of Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB).

“If my Mom had known about what community legal clinics could do for families like ours, if we’d had someone advocating for us like I can advocate for my clients, she would have had fewer struggles,”

Advocacy, accessibility and affordability

An LAO staff lawyer and LAO’s district office staff review Amanda’s paperwork once it’s completed. While Amanda is qualified to appear on her own before the RPD, an LAO lawyer will accompany her to hearings for the first six months of the pilot. This interim measure will ensure that clients are receiving high quality services and provide her with further training.

She’s pleased to be on a career path that goes back to her childhood in a single parent family. “If my Mom had known about what community legal clinics could do for families like ours, if we’d had someone advocating for us like I can advocate for my clients, she would have had fewer struggles,” she says.

“It’s all about accessibility and affordability,” she adds. “Sometimes only a lawyer can do the job. But we are a more affordable alternative in situations where a paralegal is qualified to do the same job. Here at Rexdale, I can provide quality legal services within my scope of practice for refugees whose very lives could depend on their ability to access resources and justice in a meaningful way.”

Questions

For questions or further information, please contact:

Josephine Li
Communications advisor
Phone: 416-979-2352, ext.6015
Email: lijos@lao.on.ca and/or media@lao.on.ca

http://legalaid.on.ca/en/news/newsarchive/1309-20_AmandaBitton.asp

LAO Newsroom: LAO supports licensed paralegal services for refugee claimants

LAO newsroom

News archives

LAO Newsroom

LAO supports licensed paralegal services for refugee claimants

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Rexdale Community Legal Clinic

Legal Aid Ontario (LAO) has selected the Rexdale Community Legal Clinic to run a year-long pilot that provides refugee claimants with the full-time services of an in-house licensed paralegal.

“LAO recognizes that licensed paralegals can provide a wide range of cost-effective, efficient, quality services to refugee claimants,” says Jawad Kassab, LAO’s Executive Lead, Refugee Transformation.

LAO chose the Rexdale Community Legal Clinic for this pilot to serve the large number of refugee claimants (primarily from Nigeria, Somalia and Pakistan) in this community from one location.

The Rexdale Community Legal Clinic is in the Rexdale Community Hub. This hub provides health, social, legal, employment and cultural services to the people in its catchment area — the M9W, M9V, M9R, and M9P postal code — in collaboration with a number of partners, including:

  • the Rexdale Community Health Centre
  • the Rexdale Women’s Centre
  • Rexdale Employment Services and
  • the Somali Business Development Centre.

Over the year to come, the licensed paralegal at Rexdale Community Legal Clinic will, under the supervision of two experienced refugee lawyers:

  • interview refugee claimants
  • prepare Basis of Claim (BOC) forms
  • help claimants gather evidence (such as medical reports) to support their claim
  • file BOC forms with the Refugee Protection Division (RPD) of the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB)
  • prepare refugee claimants for hearings before the IRB
  • review files and supporting evidence
  • represent clients at hearings before the RPD of the IRB.

Paralegals are licensed by the Law Society of Upper Canada to provide legal advice, document preparation and representation before administrative tribunals such as the Immigration and Refugee Board.

LAO will evaluate this initiative on an ongoing basis and assess its value after a year. In addition, as part of its ongoing assessment of all its service delivery models for refugee claimants, LAO will continue to consult with relevant stakeholders on engaging licensed paralegals to deliver refugee services.

This pilot is one of a number of LAO service delivery initiatives aimed at diversifying LAO’s refugee services model, supporting community-based client legal services and delivering cost-effective, efficient, quality legal representation.

In addition to Rexdale, financially eligible refugee claimants without counsel can choose to attain legal aid services from:

Questions

If you have any questions or require further information please contact:

Jawad Kassab
Executive Lead, Refugee Transformation
Email: kassabja@lao.on.ca

 

Shared from: http://legalaid.on.ca/en/news/newsarchive/1309-16_licensedparalegalsforrefugees.asp