Equal justice for all – free legal assistance in Zambia
'Paralegals' offer free legal counsel in Zambia. This especially benefits disadvantaged population groups.
Free legal counsel from 'paralegals' - this offer is invaluable for many people affected by poverty in Zambia, in particular, women, children and young people. Many people there are not aware of their rights or lack the money they need to enlist professional legal counsel. In Zambia, high-quality legal support is rare, making it very expensive. Only around 2,050 registered lawyers are available to the population of over 18 million.
Rita Mulenga, a cook, was unable to work for a week due to an injury. Her former employer refused to pay her full salary. 'I didn't want to go to the police, because I knew how similar cases had been handled. Sometimes the victims are the ones who have to pay in the end,' Mulenga said, explaining her situation at the time.
On behalf of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) and co-financed by the European Union, the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH promotes a more just legal system in Zambia and has achieved an important change in policy. GIZ supported the Zambian Ministry of Justice with adopting a policy for legal aid. Paralegals in Zambia have basic training in law and human rights. They are now officially recognised and their training has been formalised. Paralegals work where people come into contact with the legal system: in courts, at police stations or in prisons.
Legal assistance for over 100,000 Zambians
Since 2017, 104,000 Zambians have received free legal counsel in this way. Salome Kasonda is one of 317 paralegals trained by GIZ. 'In my former line of work as a journalist, I often observed how people lost their cases and received long sentences in overcrowded prisons for minor offences. I decided to become a paralegal to do my part to provide people in need of protection with access to legal counsel,' she said.
In the past five years, the number of queries received by the counselling offices has nearly doubled. In many cases, the issues involve family, marital or property disputes, but cases of gender-based violence are also commonplace. Kasonda is assigned six new cases a day, including cases like that of Rita Mulenga. The paralegals supported her as arbitrators between her and her employer and succeeded in Rita getting the wages owed to her. As Kasonda said: 'It makes me happy when I can help someone with a legal issue and reach an agreement that everyone is satisfied with.'