An introduction to paralegal services in Malawi

Paralegals cannot take the place of lawyers in court. But legal representation is “the tip of the iceberg,” says Clifford Msiska, who runs the Paralegal Advisory Service in Malawi. His workers teach those on remand how to ask for bail. They sift cases, alerting the courts when someone has been held beyond the legal limit. They track down relatives to stand surety, and push for children to be diverted into rehabilitation programmes instead of prison.

In Malawi, the Paralegal Advisory Services (PAS) has been providing aid in criminal matters at a quite successful rate.  They cover 84% of the prison population and prisoners have been reported to have become ‘more sophisticated in their understanding of the law and court procedure’.   Just like in Kenya under the work of PASUNE, the Malawi Law Society ‘is considering including paralegals in a review of the Legal Education and Legal Practitioners Act 1965 and the draft Legal Aid Act 2005 formally recognizes the role of paralegals as competent providers of basic legal advice, legal assistance and civic education and information about the law.’  The issue of recognizing paralegals seems to be coming to fruition and it is only a matter of time before it is fully realized.

The Legal Aid Act allows for legal aid assistants to provide paralegal services.  The Act defines the assistant as “a person who is not qualified as a legal practitioner but has attained the requisite minimum level of legal education as may be prescribed by the Council of Legal Education under the Legal Education and Legal Practitioners Act to enable such person to be in full time employment with the Bureau or to provide services under any clinical law studies programme in partial compliance of the certification requirements for a legal practitioner under the Legal Education and Legal Practitioners Act.”

Paralegals in Malawi Case Study

This project has created two rights advice centres where trained paralegals operate on a regular basis to give legal advice to members of the public. From these centres a total of 14 outreach services have been established based in trading centres in the surrounding rural areas. These are piloting models of providing legal aid to people who do not have access to the towns. A legal literacy campaign to raise awareness of rights and advertise the presence of the centres is delivered through radio programmes and local campaigns.

Additional information on paralegals in Malawi

Applicable Constitutional obligations:  Article 12 of the Malawian Constitution, Article 41.

Applicable Legislation: Legal Aid Act 2010, Legal Education and Legal Practitioners Act.

Resources: Rights advice centres: a practical guide to providing legal advice and information services in Malawi, The Paralegal Advisory Service in Practice.

Training required:  The training has been progressive and layered over a 18 month period in Malawi. Initially all paralegals completed an intensive basic training course over six weeks upon which they are examined at the conclusion. The course included: an introduction to the criminal law and procedure, constitutional law, forum theatre and inter-active learning techniques (for conducting PLCs in prison), computer literacy and information management. Following this basic course, they received continuous training over the following months in international human rights law as well as practical skills such as fact-finding, taking statements, attending police interviews, report writing as well as refresher courses on the law, forum theatre and information management. Police and prison officers also participated in these trainings. In 2007, with the assistance and support of the University of KwaZulu Natal (UKZN), the course was standardized as a two-year diploma in paralegal studies accredited by UKZN.

For the Malawi Centre for Advice Research and Education on Rights, it has been fully recognised that one week is insufficient time in which to train a paralegal and therefore a period of induction has been introduced when the paralegal will observe experienced people or the Centre Manager, conducting interviews and be observed him or herself. This also allows time for self-study and visits to key institutions like the courts and the labour office. Each paralegal has a training record to indicate which sessions she or he has completed. A complete record is required before a paralegal can operate alone.

Organizations: Malawi Centre for Advice Research and Education on Rights (Malawi CARER), Centre of Human Rights and Rehabilitation, The Paralegal Advisory Service (PASI), Innovative Development Initiative (IDI), Active Youth Initiative for Social Enhancement, Angaliba Foundation, Circle for Integrated Community Development (CICOD), The Civil Society Education Coalition, Foundation for the Integration of Culture and Human Rights, National Women’s Lobby and Rights Group, Malawi Human Rights Youth Network, Rights Institute for Social Empowerment.