Over the past 15 years, paralegals have become an increasingly important part of the criminal justice system in developing countries. As well as providing legal information and basic legal advice to people in conflict with the law, some paralegal services also provide food and medical supplies to people in detention and a presence at police stations in order to deter ill-treatment and forced confessions. Paralegals can also play a valuable role in reducing prison overcrowding. For instance, by tracing the family members of pre-trial detainees, paralegals can facilitate successful bail applications. Equally, by identifying and locating the witnesses and evidence required for trial proceedings, paralegals can expedite lengthy court cases.
The important role of paralegal services was recognised recently at the international level with the adoption of the United Nations Principles and Guidelines on Access to Legal Aid in Criminal Justice Systems which note that ‘Paralegals and law students may provide assistance at court,’ provided that they are under the supervision of qualified lawyers. It is in this context that Penal Reform International (PRI) promotes the appropriate use of paralegals within criminal justice systems as a means of complementing the work of qualified and experienced criminal defence lawyers.
As well as supporting paralegal programmes in Malawi and Rwanda – models which were implemented in a number of other countries – PRI has produced several practical resources including a Case study of PRI’s paralegal programme in Rwanda and a Handbook for paralegals working in prisons. This Index of Paralegal Services in Africa is the latest resource in PRI’s paralegal series. It lists paralegal services, paralegal networks and university legal clinics in 21 African countries and, where the information was available, provides contact details, a summary of the main services offered, a list of donors and examples of important results achieved. PRI is grateful to the many organisations that took the time to provide information for the index which we have collated into this document. Please note that PRI has not been able to verify all of the information provided; however, we will endeavour to periodically update the index and would therefore be grateful to receive comments, corrections and additions at the following address:email@example.com.
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