Law Professors are backing the motion for paralegals to represent clients in lower Malawi courts saying this would improve access to justice.
There has been debate on the issue after the Legal Aid Bureau proposed that paralegals, who have diplomas in law, should be allowed to represent people in lower courts.
University of Malawi School of Law Associate Professor Ngeyiruth Kanyongolo shared her support on a post making rounds on social media.
She said Malawi, with 627 registered lawyers, does not have enough lawyers.
“Until Malawi has enough lawyers, limited regulated audience by trained and qualified paralegals will increase access to quality justice to many indigent litigants,” reads part of her post.
In her argument, she reasoned that “Lay Magistrates, Lay prosecutors have” have employer the services of paralegals “from time immemorial”, before drawing on the Malawi’s healthy systems.
“Lawyers can learn from Doctors and Clinical Officers. Regulated, limited, trained!”
South Africa based Malawian academic, Prof. Danwood Chirwa, has also expressed support for the motion.
He said lawyers cannot argue about enhancing justice yet Malawians are failing to access their services due to prohibitive prices.
He further said that in other professions, certificate and diploma holders are also allowed to practice.
“And it is also true that police officers conduct the bulk of prosecutions, and some do so very well. These skills can be learnt via practice. MPs must do the right thing and give limited appearance rights to paralegals who must have a regulatory structure for their legal education, admission and discipline. The lawyers must focus on overcharging their clients and fake pro bonos, the poor can rely on inadequately trained paralegals, a fraction of a loaf of bread is better than nothing at all,” said Chirwa.
Legal Aid Bureau and Legal Affairs Committee of Parliament officials want Section 14 of the Legal Aid Act to be amended so that people with cases in lower courts can be represented by paralegals.
The two argue that the amendment would improve access to justice and assist about 3000 people who are on remand across the country due to lack of legal representation.
Proponents of the change also argue that some paralegals already work as magistrates hence it would not be wrong to have other paralegals representing clients.
The Malawi Law Society (MLS) said last week that the proposed amendment would lead to inequality in legal representation since the rich would be represented by lawyers while poor people will have legal assistants.
“The proposal seeks to take away from the less privileged what the Constitution has given to them at legal representation, by a legal practitioner, not a legal assistant,” the MLS said.