CHREAA is a not-for-profit non-governmental organization dedicated to the promotion and protection of human rights. Inspired by Malawi’s past history of oppression and human rights abuses, CHREAA is committed to combating ignorance of rights and to making justice accessible to marginalized communities. CHREAA is well aware that the daily struggles of ordinary people are often overlooked
A short history of the Paralegal Advisory Service (PAS)
The Paralegal Advisory Service started in Malawi in May 2000 as an initiative of Penal Reform Internation (PRI) who sought to create a public/private partnership linking four national NGOs with Malawi Prison Service. It began with eight paralegal working in the four main prisons in the country. This remarkable event arose out of the Malawi Prison Service’s ‘open door’ policy and willingness to pilot a radical reform measure.
The PAS began by drafting a restrictive Code of Conduct with the MPS which placed ownership and authority to monitor the movements of the paralegal inside prisons firmly under prison officers’ control.
Step by step, the paralegals then developed a work plan in consultation with the prison authorities and prisoners and gradually expanded their outeach to more prisons, recruiting more paralegals, as the programme took shape and demand for their services (from the prison authorities) grew.
Each team was equipped with Computers, printers, a copier, cellphone for urgent communications and motor-cycles. Emphasis is placed on keeping costs to a minimum as it is the cost of providing legal aid services that inhibits so many governments from being able to afford and deliver meaningful legal aid services.
By 2003, the PAS had 26bparalegals and reached 84% of the prison population. Responding to demand, the PAS next sought to develop services to assist persons in the courts and, initially, young persons at police stations. The ambition of the PAS had grown to provide not just advice and assistance to those in prison but to develop a national legal aid service available to all persons in conflict with the criminal law.
The PAS aims at reaching as many people as possible, with a ratio oa 1:100 (paralegal:prisoner) per day being common. Accordingly, empasis was placed on linking up with other interest groups and organisations to work with and to whom to refer cases. Innovative measures were introduced borrowing from good practices developed elsewhere (such as ‘Camp Courts’ from India,a mediation model developed in Bangladesh and Legal Aid Days in prison organised in Kenya) – and old practices that had fallen into disuse were revived, such as the Court User Committees that bring criminal justice agencies around a table each month in the districts to discuss local problems and find local solutions at low cost.
By 2004, the number of paralegals in Malawi has risen to 38 and by 2005, the paralegals were operating in 21/26 prisons, 18 police stations (including attending at adult interviews), 11 courts and were already exploring outreach into rural communities by linking up with faith-based organisations.
PAS statistics show the followong:
Between Nov 2002 – June 2007, the PLCs empowered over 149,000 prisoners to represent themselves in court and access the justice system.
In the same period, the PAS facilitated the release of over 3,200 prisoners.
In a nine month period, the PAS caused the reduction of the homicide remand population in one prison by 50% (by facilitating bail or pleas), thereby saving the judiciary substantial costs
Since 2004, when work in the police with juveniles began, PAS screening resulted in an average of 77% of young persons being diverted from prison each year
At court since 2004, paralegals have assisted over 22,300 accused persons and over 3,900 witnesses.
In 2007, the PAS as supported by PRI, evolved into the autonomous PAS Institute (PASI). Funding is gradually moving from the development partners into a Legal Aid Fund with the PASI will enter a ‘co-operation agreement’.
One of the successes of the PAS (and reason for its low turn-over of paralegals) is that it has never stopped developing its range of services and quest for new partners. While the paralegals focus their work exclusively on the formal criminal justice, they have established links with the informal, ‘traditional’ justice fora in rural communities (where the majority of people live).
The work in Police stations with young people has led to the development of diversion schemes at police and court. The high number of minor criminal cases (ie simple theft, criminal damage, assault) has led to the development of mediation services operated by faith-based organisations in the villages. In both cases, this link has enabled paralegals to refer appropriate cases/matters to these partners who live and work in the community – again at little cost.
The PAS has been independently evaluated by experienced justice practitioners on three occasions: Kerrigan:2002, Hassen:2004, Pierce:2007. Their reports are available from the Directors, PASI.
THE PAS FOUR PILLARS
The PAS aims to make justice accessible to everyone – especially the poor and vulnerable. To this end, it aims at achieving four things:
Linking the criminal justice system: improving communication, co-operation and co-ordination between the prisons, courts, police and communities they are there to serve.
Legal literacy: empowering prisoners and persons in conflict with the law to understand the criminal law and procedure and apply it to their own case; and imforming people in rural areas on the law and introducing measures to enable communities to settle appropriate matters between themselves without having recourse to the formal justice system
Legal advice and assistance: offering appropriate legal advice and assistance to those in conflict with the law on the front-line of the criminal justice system (eg: at the police station at interview; at court on first appearance; in prison to remand prisoners through PLCs) – as well as to the community (by tracing witnesses, sureties and parents of young offenders, or referring matters back to the community for mediated settlement)
Policy development: collating and analyzing data gathered from prisons, police, courts and community fora; and unsuring an accurate flow of information to the decision and policy makers to inform justice and penal reform.