Black Sash Media Statements

Landmark Class Action Case Has Roots In The Work Of Paralegal

Wednesday 04 September 2019

For most South African’s navigating the legal system is a daunting prospect, but for marginalised communities, it is near impossible. It is for this reason that well-trained paralegals working in Community Advice Offices’ is an essential service.

The 2019 Dullah Omar School for Paralegalism (DOS), is taking place 6 - 11 September 2019 at the Cape Town Lodge Hotel. It is hosted by the Centre for the Advancement of Community Advice Offices of South Africa (CAOSA), the Social Change Assistance Trust (SCAT) and the Black Sash.

The School highlights the importance of access to justice for people at a grassroots level. However, despite the prevalence and importance of paralegals in the South African justice sector, their role remains mostly under-formalised.

There is currently a Draft Paralegal Bill that is out for comment. The Bill aims to provide a regulatory body that will professionalise the role of community-based paralegals and community advise officers.

Says Charles Abrahams, Senior Partner at Abrahams Kiewitz Attorneys; “Paralegals provide a crucial link to justice services and legal redress in South Africa, particularly for the rural poor.  Judgements such as the landmark silicosis settlement have roots in the work of community-based advice offices. who initially picked up the plight of mineworkers in South Africa.”

Abrahams will give the keynote address at the opening of this year’s Dullah Omar School. He has spearheaded some of South Africa’s most historic and ground-breaking lawsuits. Pursuing justice for ordinary citizens whose lives were ruined by powers too profit-driven to ever think about them.

The Dullah Omar School was established to provide a learning platform for community-based paralegals to cultivate amongst the younger generations, the spirit for mobilising and developing community agency. 

Says CAOSA; “Access to justice is a right enshrined in our constitution. However, for many accessing this right has been mere talk and nothing more. It is therefore important that we continue to fight for a vibrant paralegal sector and capacitated community advice offices.  There is a need for adequate and sustained funding, as well as organisational development and professional support.”

A current area of concern is the plight of non-unionised workers who do not have officials to represent them and cannot afford legal fees. These workers struggle to access arbitration at the CCMA. Parliament has been working to protect fixed-term and part-time workers as well as those employed through labour brokers by passing amendments to the Labour Relations Act (LRA). These amendments provide vulnerable workers with rights equivalent to permanent employees. However, employers have been slow to realise these rights, which has given rise to many disputes.

The 2019 Dullah Omar School aims to produce well trained and informed community paralegals.  Their mission is to be the voice of the voiceless, to be advocates for the marginalised, and to educate and mobilise their communities.  They will challenge all forms of malpractices and misconduct, including misconduct of those who hold public office.

According to the Dullah Omar family: “The School remains a beacon of hope for communities amid a dark and challenging period that South Africa is currently experiencing. The School serves to reinforce a value system that is based on selflessness, service and restoring dignity to the most marginalised communities”.

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