In South Africa it has always been difficult for poor and vulnerable people to have access to justice. Legal procedures are complicated, take a long time and often need attorneys who are very expensive. People now enjoy many new rights in terms of the Constitution, the Bill of Rights and other new laws, but they can only exercise these rights if they have access to the information and assistance to do so.
There is a growing movement of people who play the role of providers of information and assistance. Examples are community development employees (CDWs) working in local government structures, advice centre employees, employees in welfare organisations and other non-governmental organisations (NGOs), shopstewards in trade unions and ward councillors. Many of them are acting as informal paralegals.
Paralegals play an important role in providing access to justice in a transforming justice system. The Department of Justice is investigating ways of giving poor rural people access to legal help and has recognised the importance of involving paralegals in any new system that is developed.
This chapter looks at the different roles paralegals play and covers the skills they need to do their work. The last section looks at the process of establishing and running a community advice centre.