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Access to justice becomes key issue at lawyers’ conference

A MOVE has been initiated, seeking to enhance established links in East Africa, among civil society legal aid providers, nongovernmental organisations (NGOs) and state justice actors to ensure access to justice.

East African Community (EAC) Secretariat Head of Corporate Communications and Public Affairs Department, Owora Othieno, said they had made efforts to establish additional measures that could ensure the expertise of non-state actors was shared with other legal aid providers, including employees of state-run legal aid schemes and members of the legal profession.

To realise that, stakeholders are meeting in Nairobi under the auspices of the East African Legal Aid Regional Network Conference for four days to discuss whether a referral system could be developed in cooperation with non-state actors.

Mr Othieno said the aim was to see if some of the cases received by paralegals and NGOs could be referred to lawyers engaged in legal aid. The expected outcome of the conference would include an agreement on a mechanism to monitor and report on progress on enhancement of access to justice through formal and informal legal aid systems in East Africa.

Another is an agreement on a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to guide the establishment of the East Africa Regional Legal Aid Network as well as a conference report that will include an outcome document with recommendations agreed by formal and informal justice actors on the development of state funded legal aid systems in their respective jurisdictions.

The conference, which is underway, has been organised by the East African Committee on Judicial Education (EAJEC), the International Development Law Organisation (IDLO), the National Legal Aid Service (NLAS) and the Paralegal Support Network (Pasune).

The conference is being coordinated through panel discussions with plenary sessions, guided discussions facilitated by experts to help identify and expose different views and levels of appreciation of thematic issues, breakout sessions on thematic areas and informal/side events to foster policy dialogue.

The conference is being attended by 50 participants drawn from policy makers, legal aid practitioners, including representatives of the respective ministries of justice, the judiciary, training institutes in the region, the EAC Secretariat, regional bar associations, offices of public prosecution, pro bono lawyers, the East Africa Law Society, relevant United Nations (UN) agencies and other development partners.

In addition, paralegal support networks, members of the civil society, law schools in universities that operate legal aid clinics, faith-based and community-based organisations from Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi, Somalia and South Sudan are also in attendance.

The conference is a follow-up on previous initiatives that lay the foundation for improved access to justice in the East Africa region through enhanced legal aid service provision. In commitment to the advancement of the rule of law in Africa, IDLO and the government of Tanzania co-hosted a pan-African conference in Dar es Salaam under the theme ‘Achieving the 2030 Agenda and Agenda 2063’: The Rule of Law as a Driver of Africa’s Sustainable Development’ that took place in June 2016.

The Dar es Salaam conference concluded with concrete suggestions for future activities, including a pressing need to improve access to justice and engage informal and community justice systems as one of the main means of accessing justice in Africa. It identified legal aid as a critical component in the promotion of access to justice. 

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Author: DEUS NGOWI in Arusha

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