Targeting paralegals in the drive to improve access to justice for all

12 Sep 2012

Building on the publication of the Family Law Handbook in 2009, UNDP is working with the Ministry of Women Affairs Gender and Community Development (MoWAGCD), to develop a Family Laws training manual for paralegals, in a move meant to improve access to justice for all in Zimbabwe.

The Family Law Handbook simplifies family laws such as the Domestic Violence Act, the Matrimonial Causes Act, and the Deceased Estates Act, making them accessible to especially women. Drawing from this publication, Women and Laws in Southern Africa (WLSA), a regional think tank, has been commissioned by the MoWAGCD to develop a training manual for paralegals. 

Upon publication, the document will be used by the MoWAGCD to train relevant officials who will, in turn, disseminate this information to the disadvantaged and marginalized women (the poor, the widowed, and disabled)—and also be in a position  to refer them to relevant service providers to ensure their access to the justice system.

Speaking during a workshop held in Harare on 20 September 2012 to exchange views on the process, Ms. Sylvia Chirawu, from WLSA described the development of the paralegals manual as necessary.  “The simplification of Family Law has not been an easy process yet it’s a necessary one to make and sure those laws are sufficiently captured and can be widely disseminated.”

In her remarks, UNDP Programme Officer Doreen Nyamukapa reflected on the corporate gender strategy, saying that this strategy entails integrating gender perceptive in all UNDP practice areas.  Participants were given an overview of the link between legal empowerment of women and poverty reduction especially through equitable access to property and inheritance laws. 

The technical meeting provided a good opportunity for involving various stakeholders, prior to the drafting process, and to draw on their inputs to produce a comprehensive and relevant training manual.

Participants were drawn from the Ministry of Justice and Legal Affairs (MoJLA), the Ministry of Labor and Social Services, the National Council for Disabled in Zimbabwe, Care International, and Padare.

During the discussion session, the participants reviewed existing training manuals, including documents from other UN agencies, the MoJLA, Zimbabwe Women Lawyers Association, Musasa and the Legal Resources Foundation.

“The MoWAGCD intention is to initially focus on the Ministry’s officials such as the Provincial Development Officers (PDOs), the District Development Officers (DDOs), the Community development officers and the ward development officers considering their direct links with grass root people, especially women,” said Mrs. T. Madziva, Provincial Development Officer for Harare at the MoWAGCD.

The Participants expressed interest in having this initiative introduced to other decentralized ministries as well as targeted NGOs.  It was suggested that a Training of Trainers (ToT)’s approach should be used, aiming at cascading information from the highest to the lowest levels of society, including community leaders. On the mode of operations for the paralegals, consensus emerged on their crucial role of providing information referring members of the public to appropriate service providers. In addition, it was agreed that paralegals would neither   participate in court cases or go to Courts nor interfere with any judicial /legal processes. Organizations already involving paralegals would be contacted to draw specific guidelines and terms of references (Code of Conduct).

Going forward, it was proposed that WLSA would collect all relevant training manuals and materials available, incorporating the suggestions made in the drafting process. Stakeholders will subsequently be engaged to validate and improve on the draft.