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Paralegal Aid in Africa: A Case Study from Malawi

NCJ Number
Corrections Today Volume: 64 Issue: 1 Dated: February 2002 Pages: 34-37
Adam Stapleton
Date Published
4 pages
This article reviews the Malawi Para-Legal Advisory Service (PAS).
The Para-Legal Advisory Service (PAS) was developed in Malawi in May 2000 to help alleviate problems in prisons and the criminal justice system and to provide poor people with access to the formal justice system. The approach was to work with all criminal justice agencies in a spirit of cooperation and collaboration. Crime and punishment are important issues in Malawi, which is the poorest country in the world. In 1994, Malawi became one of Africa’s new democracies, when general elections were held for the first time since its independence in 1964. Since then, crime rates have spiraled and a pervasive sense of insecurity is present. Since 1996, the prison population has risen from 4,500 to 7,500. Malawi prisons are overwhelming populated by the poor. There is a legal department to represent the poor, which is attached to the Ministry of Justice, but it does not attract good lawyers. In order to address the urgent representation needs of the poor who come in contact with the criminal justice system, PAS was created. PAS is a joint initiative of the Malawi Prison Service and civil society groups concerned with penal reform. The paralegals are people with common sense, compassion, and patience. They have all undergone paralegal training directed at community-based paralegals, including work on international human rights law, the Malawi Constitution, and mediation techniques, and received an additional introductory course on criminal law, the laws of evidence, and criminal procedure. During the project’s 18 months in operation, there have been no complaints against the 12 paralegals. Their daily work consists of conducting paralegal aid clinics to remand inmates to inform them about the criminal justice system, how its works, and what will happen to them. During the past 18 months, paralegals have earned the trust and respect of inmates and all criminal justice professionals and, in a short time, made themselves indispensable. 4 Notes