The East African Legal Aid Regional Network Conference organized by the East African Committee on Judicial Education (EAJEC), International Development Law Organization (IDLO), National Legal Aid Service (NLAS), and the Paralegal Support Network (PASUNE) is underway at the Safari Park Hotel in Nairobi, Kenya.
Among the items on the agenda are to enhance established links between civil society legal aid providers including paralegals, NGOs and state justice actors in the East Africa region as well as establishing additional measures that can ensure that the expertise of non-state actors is shared with other legal aid providers, including employees of state-run legal aid schemes and members of the legal profession.
In addition, the conference is considering whether a referral system can be developed in cooperation with non-state actors, in which some of the cases received by paralegals and NGOs can be referred to lawyers and jurists active in the field of legal aid.
The four-day 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 expected outputs of the conference will include an Agreement on a mechanism to monitor and report on progress on enhancement of Access to Justice through both formal and informal Legal Aid systems in East Africa; an agreement on a Memorandum of Understanding 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 is being attended by 50 participants drawn from a pool of 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 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 Organizations from Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi, Somalia and South Sudan are also in attendance.
The conference is a follow-on to 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 the United Republic 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,” which took place on 1st and 2nd June 2016. The Dar es Salaam Conference concluded with concrete suggestions for future activities, including (a) the pressing need to improve access to justice; and (b) the need to engage with 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.
In addition, the conference builds on the outcomes of the 2nd International Conference on Access to Legal Aid in Criminal Justice Systems held in Argentina in November 2016. The Argentina conference deliberated on effective strategies to improve access to justice consistent with the United Nations Principles and Guidelines on Access to Legal Aid in Criminal Justice
Systems (UN Principles and Guidelines), adopted by the General Assembly in resolution 67/187. The conference identified various avenues for the promotion of legal aid, including (a) the establishment of national, regional and international specialized networks of legal aid providers; (b) the exchange of information; and (c) the sharing of international best practices and expertise, as called for in May 2016 through resolution 25/2 of the 25th session of the Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice (CCPCJ).
The conference is intended to create a regional platform for the engagement of state and non-state agencies involved in legal aid, and to encourage them to build linkages between their regional networks and the formal justice systems with a view of enhancing access to justice in Africa.