Improved Coordination of Legal Services for the VulnerableMay 9, 2018
“Over 90 stakeholders from across the Botswana justice sector convened in Gaborone on 8 May at a workshop convened by Legal Aid Botswana and UNDP. The main objective of the workshop was to lay the groundwork for the improved coordination of legal services for vulnerable and indigent people in Botswana. The workshop demonstrated the high levels of interest and commitment to establishing a legal referral system, with participants noting the real need and suffering in the community caused by lack of access to legal aid.
Kgosi Mosielele, Senior Chief Representative Manyana, highlighted the importance of including Dikgosi in the legal referral mechanism, noting the central role Dikgosi play in dispensing justice. An estimated 80% of cases in Botswana are handled by Dikgosi in Customary Courts, despite the lack of formal legal training for Dikgosi. Ms L Moalusi, the Executive Director of Kagisanyo Women’s Shelter highlighted the importance of supporting clients through referral processes to ensure legal services are delivered to the standard required. Ms Moalusi also emphasized the benefits of holistic and integrated services such as legal, health and psychosocial support services, for vulnerable people such as domestic violence survivors.
The central role of lawyers in private practice was also raised, considering the limitations and restrictions on the legal services that can be provided by Legal Aid Botswana and non-government services. Ms K Phele from the Law Society of Botswana explained the existing referral arrangements whereby Legal Aid Botswana refers cases to private practitioners through the Law Society. Mr Peter Brits, Chief Executive Officer of Legal Aid Botswana, noted that according to Legal Aid Botswana Guidelines, lawyers in private practice must first complete 25 hours of pro bono work a year, to be eligible to take instructions for paid work from Legal Aid Botswana. The long standing and extensive pro bono support provided by several private practitioners for victims of domestic violence and asylum seekers was recognized as shining examples that can be promoted and expanded to build a stronger culture of pro bono and public interest work in the legal profession.
The importance of specialized legal services that cater to the needs of specific population groups and legal issues was also highlighted. An example provided by Ms K Tselapedi, Senior Assistant Registrar and Master at the Francistown High Court, was the stock theft list, with cattle being of central importance to Motswana. Other examples included the need for specialized legal services for domestic violence and children in conflict with the law.
The need for coordination of services, referral pathways and support to clients were some of the key recommendations of the workshop. Legal Aid Botswana has agreed to lead the further development of a referral system, including a mapping of the sector. Other challenges identified included the gap in legal aid for criminal matters, refugees and asylum seekers and the need to produce legal information to inform people about legal rights and remedies and pathways to access justice. Legal Aid Botswana will produce information brochures for public education and outreach and over time advocacy will be increased on issues affecting legal aid for vulnerable and indigent people in Botswana.
UNDP has supported Legal Aid Botswana since its inception in 2013 and will continue to provide support through the “Support to the Fulfilment of Human Rights, Access to Justice and Empowerment of Youth and Women Project” (2018 – 2021).