The Achmed Dean Sesay Memorial Prize for Innovation
We narrowed down the candidates for the Achmed Dean Sesay Memorial Prize for Innovation to ten organizations that help people to know, use, or shape the law to advance justice in their country. A panel of judges consisting of leaders and visionaries in the field of legal empowerment selected Nossas Cidades from Brazil as this year's winner.
Find out more about the innovative work of Nossas Cidades and the other inspiring finalists below.
THE WINNER: Nossas Cidades
Mission: Ours is a laboratory of civic activism and its mission is to bring ordinary citizens closer to political decision-making by networking citizens, mapping opportunities for action, lobbying decision-makers, creating networks of solidarity and sharing resources so that a more inclusive society . Acting as a laboratory, the structure of Nossas allows us to absorb the risks of innovating, collecting learning and sharing methodologies with other initiatives that have fewer resources to experiment with.
How does the organization empower people to understand, use and shape the law?: DefeZap has three fronts of action on legal empowerment: the first focuses on the general public. DefeZap produces and disseminates informational materials on rights and ways of guaranteeing rights, translating from an inaccessible legal language the majority of the population most vulnerable to having their rights restricted. Using everyday tools like Facebook, simple language and a visual identity support to further facilitate the transmission of knowledge.
The second strategy is the production of workshops with peripheral groups to guide the production of evidence of breach in security. This method has a focus on already engaged community activists who need more supportive support to define their role vis-a-vis the state and their community. The intention is not to let the cases end the facts, that is, to lead to the bodies responsible for officially investigating, blaming, interrupting continuous violations and repairing victims of illegal state violence.
Finally, DefeZap conducts individualized assistance to people who have evidence of state violence. The job is to send the evidence to the responsible ones about the inspection, to follow up the case, without the victim or the witness having to expose themselves - since the possibility of suffering some type of reprisal is significant. The DefeZap team updates the victim / throughout the process.
Is there an aspect of it legal empowerment work that is particularly innovative?: 90% of smartphone users in Brazil use the WhatsApp application to communicate, so DefeZap has been structured to allow broad access to the service via the application. The permeability of the Internet in areas where few state services, in addition to security forces, have been perceived as the greatest opportunity to dialogue and develop with the same communities that suffer directly from state violence. The innovation of the project is reflected directly from the real impact it has generated, guaranteeing advances in the defense of rights of residents.
In addition, the methodology developed is based on three points: 1 - Collective Intelligence for records, production of evidence of violations and attention to affected areas. 2 - Collaborative investigation to, through a territorial network, exchange information that helps to complement the facts shown in the tests and verify the veracity of information received by the channel of denunciations. 3 - Territorial Articulation-Institutions to guarantee access to justice and progress of cases. From this tripod, the case database subsidizes the permanent formulation of citizen communication contents, workshops on rights and mobilizations, charging that institutions work to repair, hold accountable and prevent cases of State violence.
*Application was submitted in Portuguese- translated answers using an online Translator
Mission: We believe in making access to justice readily available to 50 million people across Africa by 2030. We are using innovation and technology to achieve our goal.
How does the organization empower people to understand, use and shape the law?:We provide free legal information, guidance and support to people who fall in the category of the undeserved (these are people who are unable to receive legal information because they cannot afford a lawyer or cannot understand the complex legal language the law is normally shared through. Our services are provided in the following ways: 1. Using technologies like our websites, social media and SMS platform to disseminate legal information through creative content which is easy to understand by the general population. 2. Using innovative methods to educate our beneficiaries who do not have access to technology platforms or who are illiterate, about the laws that govern them and how to utillize these laws to protect themselves and to enforce their rights.
Is there an aspect of it legal empowerment work that is particularly innovative?:BarefootLaw has a working model referred to as the BIOS ( BarefootLaw Integrated Operating System). With this model, we bring together all the platforms we work on, social media, websites, SMS onto one management system which enables us to respond to an average of 100 people every day with the legal information and or guidance which they have requested for. This would not be possible ordinarily with a team of less than 10 qualified lawyers.
We also use BIOS to predict the changing trends in legal needs in the country. For example we have come to realise times of the year when land conflicts are more than other times, the times when employment conflicts are prevalent and we pre-empt those conflicts by sharing information pertaining to those particular topics in order to influence people not to "take matters into their own hands" and to resort to a lawful resolution of the disputes. We are currently working on automation of simple responses and machine language in our quest to build a system that can respond to the simple legal questions with the expectation that this system will learn and grow more intelligent over time. This will help us become even more efficient and be able to serve many more people with our team numbers not having to increase drastically.
Center for Conflict Transformation and Peace Studies
Mission:CECOTAPS has a mission to create enabling environments for the internalization of the culture of peace, the promotion of social justice, and human development through education and training on human and legal rights, peace building and conflicts, mediation services and investments in grassroots economic development.
How does the organization empower people to understand, use and shape the law?:In view of the failings of customary and state fostered interventions, CECOTAPS facilitated a community led initiative that leverages on technology, culture and statutes to formalize and improve land rights for women under the Community Resource Management Areas (CREMA) framework. A CREMA is a robust natural resource governance structure clothed with state power to manage landscapes with significant biodiversity. The strategy has been to engage traditional leaders and “Tindamba” (Landlords) who are alloidal right holders to appreciate the need to offer women long term interests/interest on farms they till.
The second phase built capacities of women leaders (“Magazias”, “Pognaas”) on human rights, land laws and Interest Based Negotiations (IBN) to equip them with skills for negotiating for land and productive natural resources. After lands has been negotiated for, they are demarcated using GPS devices by community members and plot maps developed. A land use agreement with fixed term is signed between the leasor and leasee with chiefs and CREMA executives as witnesses after which these documents are publicly displayed. The land formalisation process has proven to improve tenure security for women, prevented boundary conflicts, realign use rights, sanitize land governance and promoted environmental stewardship at the community level.
Is there an aspect of it legal empowerment work that is particularly innovative?: CECOTAPS' land formalisation is a community led process of empowering women and other vulnerable groups to legally improve their access and tenure security to land and other natural resource products by leveraging on the culture of the people, national statutes, local government actors and affordable technology. The land formalisation process is built on the Community Resource Management Areas (CREMA) concept which is a landscape management framework clothed with with state power to manage natural resources. These features distinguish the process from many approaches that have not been sustainable. However, the CREMA concept provides a unique platform to drive sustainability. The process brings together chiefs and landlords who are engaged to understand the need to improve women tenure security to land ultimately enhances household income, food security and nutrition. When land parcels are released to the women, the community based Land Demarcation Volunteers demarcate land parcels.
The volunteers making up of 24 males and 21 females have been trained to profile beneficiaries and use Global Position System devices (GPS) to demarcate land parcels. With the technical backstopping from CECOTAPS, land parcel maps are generated and validated with community members who have interest on the parcel. A land use agreement is then entered between the leasor and lessee which spells out the commitment of each party and sets the basis for the abrogation of the agreement. The signed agreement is witnessed by a chief/"Tendana" and a CREMA Executive Committee member. Copies of the agreements are kept with the parties, CREMA and local government offices. The land formalisation process has given 351 women and other vulnerable groups in 32 communities fixed term of tenure security over land. This spans from a minimum of 10 years to the death of the lease.
Center for Human Rights, Education, Advice, and Assistance
Mission: To promote and protect human rights by assisting vulnerable and marginalised people in Malawi to access justice through civic education, advocacy, legal advice and assistance.
How does the organization empower people to understand, use and shape the law?: CHREAA is implementing two interrelated programs: decriminalization of colonial era offences; and promotion of sex workers’ rights. We are running a campaign to decriminalize minor offences that target marginalized groups including the homeless, hawkers, persons with disabilities, drug-users and sex workers. Likewise, we equip these groups to challenge unlawful arrests/police abuses, and to secure better health care. In 2017 we secured a landmark judgement, declaring the Victorian-era offence of being a rogue and vagabond unconstitutional and invalid.
CHREAA paralegals have also built a network of allies within the government, the judiciary and civil society, including the media and have successfully placed this issue on the national agenda. We are working with the Chief State Advocate on developing Prosecutorial Guidelines on petty offences and with the Inspector General of Police to reform their training curriculum. Sex workers are profoundly affected by these laws. Criminalization increases stigma, driving them away from health and other services. We works with sex workers at individual and structural levels, providing emergency legal services, training and holding accountable the police and judiciary, and building capacity within the sex worker movement. We have also successfully built a cadre of sex worker paralegals who train others on their rights.
Is there an aspect of it legal empowerment work that is particularly innovative?: The intersectional nature of CHREAA’s work is unique, reaching a wide spectrum of affected communities, using a common entry point. Through a combination of litigation, research, extensive media reporting, public debates, town hall talks and closed door meetings it has succeeded in putting the issue of petty offences squarely on the agenda of members of the judiciary, the Ministry of Justice, the Directorate of Public Prosecutions and the police leadership. With these structures now on side, attention has expanded to include the legislature and those involved in the legislative process and in particular the Law Reform Commission and the relevant portfolio committees in Parliament.
In addition to ongoing engagement with these institutions, CHREAA engages a diverse set of civil society partners working with various constituencies including prisoners, children, sex worker, people with disabilities and street vendors. The purpose is to ensure that these stakeholders understand the link between decriminalization of minor nuisance-related offences and their constituency and mandate and are able to advocate in their own right. In terms of concrete innovations, CHREAA has recorded the bail application procedure in all local languages and installed radios in various police station cells and court cells. In this way even in the absence of paralegals, the people in conflict with the law are able to make a bail application on their own. Through this CHREAA has assisted 13000 prisoners.
CHREAA has also built a good rapporteur with sex workers through an interactive space called ‘happy hour.’ Through this space CHREAA has social interaction with sex workers and they share their experiences and challenges they encounter when plying their trade. These spaces are very informal to ensure that sex workers feel supported and empowered to report any abuse they suffer at the hands of the police. CHREAA also has a drama group called “Nkhokwe”. It is comprised of ex-prisoners. The drama group conducts legal aid clinics in communities as well as in prisons.
Mission: FNB, Nepal aims to drive through sustainable, cooperative, voluntary and synergetic initiatives for holistic development of the country and to provide the legal services to public.
How does the organization empower people to understand, use and shape the law?: We, Forum for Nation Building (FNB), from 2016 have started the project “Enhancing Access to Justice of the Earthquake Victims of Sindhupalchowk, Gorkha and Bhaktapur districts of Nepal through Community Mobile Legal Clinics” with the support of the organization Development and Peace. Reaching directly to some 10,000 earthquake victims of Gorkha, Sindhupalchwok and Bhaktapur districts among 14 most crisis hit district and have already successfully facilitated the legal aid programs in more than 100 places in its first year. The second tenure of this project is still going on for the year 2017 where this time we have stretched out the services to 2 more districts, Kathmandu and Lalitpur and conducting clinics in coordination with newly formed local government units.
In this action plan, we team of lawyers and law students reach out to different corners of the aforementioned districts to provide them legal remedy regarding the conveniences granted by government to the victims of the earthquake along with counselling their other legal complications as well. We divide the clinic into two phases, first is legal literacy class regarding the policies which is followed by free legal consultations and follow up services from District Legal Service Desk. The serious impediments arose during the clinics are noted and further discussed among the law makers under the policy advocacy activities of the same project and radio program broad casted in national radio stations.
Is there an aspect of it legal empowerment work that is particularly innovative?: After the earthquake of 2015, various institutions were active in conducting different rescue and relief activities.. In this milieu, Forum for Nation Building (FNB), from the month of January, 2016 have started the project “Enhancing Access to Justice of the Earthquake Victims of Sindhupalchowk, Gorkha and Bhaktapur districts of Nepal through Community Mobile Legal Clinics “with the support of the organization Development and Peace. Initially, we provided training to lawyers and law students who would visit the project locations and entertain legal remedies as resource persons and volunteers. (...). During the CMLC clinics we distribute the booklets among the participants thus helping us to reach to supplementary indirect beneficiaries and expand our horizons of service. This action has been very well received by the public as well as the local government units. We have been receiving numerous queries in the district offices as well as the central offices. It has been expedient that the legal awareness, consultancy and legal-aid support to the earthquake victims rendered by the organization has primarily been appreciated, helpful to give concrete awareness and substantially enhanced the process of getting subsidy declared by the government and different supporting organizations active locally and nationally, approach for taking subsidize loan and process of getting important documents which were either lost or damaged during earthquake.
Similarly, active and meaningful participation of more than targeted number of beneficiaries in the community mobile clinics and dissemination of information through social mobilizers, posters and local FMs about the clinic and its services was crucial. The institution has tried to add more services for providing regular services at project coverage districts and center by keeping support staffs for supporting follow up cases of earthquake victims on their legal needs. After the establishment of the National Reconstruction Authority and reaching out to some 9,000 earthquake victims directly we have been pioneering the ways of supporting the victims legally and in terms of meeting different procedures and assisted to restore numbers of important documents of EQ victims.
Mission:We level barriers to justice by disrupting prejudice, building empathy and advancing human rights.
How does the organization empower people to understand, use and shape the law?: We disrupt prejudice and build empathy to increase access to justice through innovative youth empowerment and human rights advocacy projects.
i. Youth Empowerment Working with Indigenous youth aged 11-13 across Canada, we deliver specialized justice education workshops, including mock trials and sentencing circles. The program is culturally anchored and is designed to empower youth to develop greater knowledge of the justice system through experiential learning. The project aims to encourages youth to become leaders in their classrooms and communities, and to consider careers in law. We also empower Indigenous youth to be agents of change in their communities by creating spaces for them to be directly involved in innovative research and resource creation. In 2018 Level will support Indigenous youth across Canada to create a report identifying barriers to justice in their communities.
ii. Human Rights Advocacy We work with students, early career lawyers, and legal professionals to produce important human rights research. In 2018, a multidisciplinary team of students will research practical ways to disrupt barriers to justice in Canada. We also facilitate meaningful mentorship opportunities for law students and create opportunities for law students to raise awareness of important human rights issues on their campuses.
Is there an aspect of it legal empowerment work that is particularly innovative?: Level takes an innovative approach to youth empowerment and human rights advocacy by grounding our work in empathy building. We believe that legal professionals must go beyond seeing only themselves as agents of change, and focus more time, energy, and resources outward, to the communities they aim to represent. By grounding our work in empathy, and creating meaningful opportunities for young people to enact change for themselves and their communities, we believe that our impact will be greater. Specifically, we take an empathetic approach to empowering others by employing design thinking, cultural awareness and two-way knowledge transfers in our programming.
i. Design Thinking :A design thinking approach engages beneficiaries and stakeholders throughout the program's life.
ii. Cultural Awareness: Level takes an innovative approach to justice education by incorporating culturally-anchored learning opportunities. In the Indigenous Youth Outreach Program, for example, Level incorporates Indigenous pedagogy like sentencing circles, the use of eagle feathers in the courtroom, and Gladue principles as tools for teaching students about restorative justice in the Canadian criminal justice system.
iii. Two-Way Knowledge Transfers: Level's approach is also innovative for creating opportunities for learning and growth. For example, Level's Indigenous Youth Outreach Program is not only designed to directly benefit the youth who participate in the mock trials and sentencing circles, but it also creates learning opportunities for the legal professionals who serve as volunteers. We know that many Canadian legal professionals are ill-equipped to serve Indigenous clients. Through cultural competency and mentorship trainings, we create a safe space to disrupt prejudice, unconscious bias and provide lawyers and law students with the skills they need to be effective advocates and allies.
Mission: MARG believes in Justice through legal empowerment. A good way to ensure justice is to legally empower people to demand it. Legal empowerment equips people to understand their rights, secure their enforcement and pursue remedies when these rights are violated. MARG works for the legal empowerment of the vulnerable and the marginalized, women, children, persons with disabilities, dalits, the poor, transgender etc.
How does the organization empower people to understand, use and shape the law?: Legal empowerment is core to MARG's work and underpins all our activities. Over the years, MARG has undertaken considerable research on various laws and socio-legal issues e.g. displacement, panchayat law, domestic violence, sexual harassment at workplace, right to education, the criminal justice system etc. Besides its research work, MARG is a pioneer in the production of innovative legal training materials and advocacy tools. MARG has extensive experience in conducting legal literacy workshops on laws relating to constitutional rights, livelihood, protection of women from violence, personal laws, political participation through panchayats and discrimination.
Our strategies are: 1. Legal awareness 2. Legal assistance 3. Legal implementation (Securing improved governance through improved implementation of the law) 4. Legal reform
Our Legal Empowerment Methods include: • Spreading legal awareness among the general on the rights of vulnerable and marginalised sections, particularly women's rights • Capacity Building/Legal Training of selected community members by creating cadres of Community Justice Workers (CJWs) by equipping them with relevant knowledge of rights and skills to use the law who further helps the marginalised community to access justice. • Training of duty bearers (e.g. police, legal aid lawyers, judges, etc) • Development of legal literacy materials which simplify laws for generating legal awareness • Developing innovative tools for communication for mass awareness and advocacy through social media
Is there an aspect of it legal empowerment work that is particularly innovative?: Justice is closely linked to effective governance. Legal empowerment through legal capacity building is an important key to better governance. When people are equipped not only with the knowledge of rights and skills to enforce them, but are empowered to engage effectively with the state machinery and mechanisms, they are in a better position to secure their rights and pursue their interests. Legal capacity building of the poor and marginalised will empower them to protect their rights, pursue their own interests, and demand accountability and responsiveness from government agencies and public institutions.
MARG works towards building the legal capacity of communities and organisations so they can act as catalysts for improved governance in their areas. Our work is particularly innovative when dealing with building capacities of community justice workers to access their rights and ensure good governance. Initially a survey conducted to ascertain main source of water for the population of 35-40 thousands, i.e. Delhi Jal Board’s water tanker. It was observed that only 20-22 tankers, twice or thrice a week, use to come to cater this big size of population on an average basis. Although Government had allotted 88 tankers at different designated water points for every day. This information came out after filing an RTI application. This was a milestone moment: Women residing near the specific water tanker points, started filing another round of (Right to Information) RTI application to Delhi Jal(Water) Board (DJB) to know about status of their tankers, timing, cleaning of tankers etc.
To spread awareness about the specific water tanker points in the community, women started sticking poster on those water tanker points, mentioning that this information they have received from DJB after filing RTI. Normally these posters were tore down by someone anonymous. The Harshingar Women used to maintain ‘water tanker monitoring calendars’ to note down the timing if tanker arrives or does not arrive. They used to get threats, ridiculed by senior male members of community and many similar pull downs, but these Harshingar women never lost their confidence and patience, they followed till the success was achieved. Later this movement driven by MARG's community workers moved towards a demand for water pipelines for Savda Ghevra. Similar efforts were replicated to ensure better Sanitation and Hygiene related civic issues and got the efforts put by the community members became a huge success.
Mission: PAN's mission is to leverage the collective power of its network of 14 civil society organizations to improve access to justice for all indigent detainees and in particular to ensure that the rights of persons with psychosocial and intellectual disabilities, both victims and defendants, are upheld during their interface with the criminal justice system thus challenging the acute discrimination experienced by this constituency throughout the criminal justice chain.
How does the organization empower people to understand, use and shape the law?: To address the problem, we undertake: - Direct legal services through our paralegal network. - Supporting self-advocates. - Trainings of justice and health officers to appropriately handle cases involving persons with disabilities. - Monitoring to ensure reviews for persons detained at “His Excellency's Pleasure” (indefinitely without trial). - Development of a guide to outlining for justice and health officers on how to handle cases involving these persons with psychosocial or intellectual disabilities appropriately. - Training of media on disability rights and appropriate reporting. - Development of informational materials to create public awareness and challenge stigma. - Advocacy to repeal the antiquated Mental Disorders Act and other laws that discriminate against persons with psychosocial or intellectual disabilities.
Is there an aspect of it legal empowerment work that is particularly innovative?: Recognizing the profound discrimination experienced by people with psychosocial and intellectual disabilities in their interaction with the criminal justice system in Zambia, PAN has embarked on an ambitious and innovative program of work, in a context where stigma and suspicion and even fear of people with mental health challenges are deeply rooted. It began with groundbreaking research. The resultant report, Challenging Disadvantage: people with psychosocial and intellectual disabilities in the criminal justice system, was completed in February 2015 and is unprecedented in the disability rights field. Paralegals are now focused on ensuring access to justice for this extremely marginalized constituency through a range of activities. These include, inter alia, providing direct legal assistance; fostering self-advocacy; and training, law reform and public sensitization. Good progress has been made, however, much remains to be done to tackle entrenched discrimination and bias.
To this end PAN is currently doubling its efforts to deliver information, training and workforce development; consolidate the establishment of self-advocates groups; and most innovatively, to test a common approach or "pathway" for health and justice professionals to the handling of cases involving those with cognitive or psychosocial disabilities. Almost no one globally is doing this groundbreaking work and PAN is thus building the field not only in Zambia but in the southern Africa region and beyond.
Mission: PWC seeks to address women’s marginalisation in patriarchal Maasai and Sonjo culture and to enhance their quality of life, as well as to address the poverty pastoralists and agro-pastoralists face by encouraging them to become self-reliant and to take control over their own development. Our mission is to promote the cultural, environmental, economic and educational development of pastoralist women and children to facilitate their access to essential social services and economic empowerment. We are guided by four principles of solidarity, equality, trust and transparency.
How does the organization empower people to understand, use and shape the law?:We believe that the most effective way to guarantee that women are protected and that their rights are recognized is to empower them to speak up for themselves and find sustainable solutions genuine to their community. When women are equipped with the knowledge and effective skills to claim their rights they are better able to diminish harmful and discriminating practices.
Therefore, PWC's primary agent for supporting women's human rights and achieving gender equality is our Women's Rights and Leadership Forums (WRLFs). These forums aim to defend women's rights, provide education, strengthen women’s representation in leadership and public participation, prevent instances of gender-based violence and forced marriage, and resolve gender disparity and rights violations relating to ownership of land and property. By bringing trained paralegals and different community members together, PWC has provided a safe environment for discussion, allowing women to reflect on the positive and negative aspects of their culture, to share experiences, skills and knowledge, and to mobilize resources leading to sustainable changes and long term collaboration. As a result, girls have escaped forced marriage and graduated from universities; women have gained confidence and knowledge in different areas and received tangible financial support through credit schemes.
Is there an aspect of it legal empowerment work that is particularly innovative?: PWC’s legal empowerment work is unique in the way that it tackles four important and intertwined gender related issues: land and inheritance rights, domestic violence, forced marriage, and women in leadership positions. As part of this strategy, PWC's most innovative approach to empower Maasai women and girls is its focus on increasing women’s representation in traditional and local government leadership structures. In a patriarchal culture like theirs, women remain under-represented within their local communities and decision-making bodies. Therefore, the ability of women to influence public decision making in Maasai communities has been limited as women could not attend or speak at community meetings. In this regard, the Women Leadership Forums are of key importance to make social and political participation at the all levels available to all women.
There are important innovations and strategies that are contributing to the achievements of WRLFs. For example, WRLFs are working with both customary and statutory leadership and governance institutions. Through this engagement, they are supporting locally appropriate harmonization of customary and statutory rights, and universal human rights, in ways that strengthen women’s rights and the collective rights of the pastoralist system. At the same time, WRLFs are not formal governance institutions. Rather, WRLFs provide a dedicated, parallel space solely for women. In this space, women are able to demonstrate their courage and capabilities to respond to pressing threats to individuals’ and community land. WRLFs are becoming their own ‘customary’ institutions, rather than trying to be formally embedded within existing bodies. In areas where WRLFs are active, women are speaking in public and have strategically increased their influence in their communities by obtaining seats in village government councils and by collaborating with the customary leadership.
As such, following the establishment of the first ever Women CBO in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area in 2014, PWC has worked to strengthen the organisation through leadership training on roles and responsibilities, the formation of working committees, and development of a Strategic Plan. PWC’s ongoing progress with women’s development in Ngorongoro is illustrated by an increase in the number of Maasai women elected to the Ngorongoro District Council in 2015.
Mission: PF-L engages People and Local Communities to pursue justice, human rights and healing in response to crimes to ensure that offenders are reintegrated, relationships are reconciled, and communities are restored and remain peaceful.
How does the organization empower people to understand, use and shape the law?: PF-L works to reduce incarceration by providing paralegal assistance to those in detention through a combination of services including participation in the Magistrates Sitting Program (MSP) in Monrovia, mediating disputes in communities, and collecting data for advocacy. The government-led MSP brings six Magistrates’ Courts with the highest backlogs to the prison in Monrovia to hold fast-track hearings for prolonged pre-trial detainees. PFL identifies detainees and ensures that they have legal representation. It has also been instrumental in establishing alternative dispute resolution mechanisms for courts in counties. PFL views mediation as key to reducing unnecessary detention and is working to establish mediation centers in all project localities so people involved in minor offences can avoid court action. Liberia is in the process of developing a new legal aid policy. PFL is playing a prominent role in the drafting. It is lobbying for proper costing and institutionalization of the MSP. It is pushing for the formalization of the role of paralegals in the policy. It is also guiding the drafters to consider options for access to legal counsel, particularly in courts of first appearance, including: a public defenders scheme; expanded legal aid; the use of law students; and a pro bono scheme.
Is there an aspect of it legal empowerment work that is particularly innovative?: Criminal justice sector reform is a long-term goal in Liberia, a post-conflict country where most citizens have never experienced a fair justice system, accountability for state actors is only slowly becoming possible, and where justice and security sector systems are either still broken from the war or in a fragile state of development. The role of civil society in bringing about this change is pivotal, yet their resources are scarce and the infrastructure and accessibility of services outside of Monrovia are almost none existent. Against this backdrop PFL has continued to provide legal assistance and promote legal empowerment since 1989, with or without donor support.
Its access to justice work, which incorporates both the formal and informal justice systems, is widely viewed by the state to be essential to the reduction of pre-trial detention and adherence to defendants’ rights in Liberia. Through its partnerships it provides the only consistent legal defence in the Magistrates Sitting Program and in Monrovia’s Magistrates Courts, while bringing much needed oversight on the justice sector to uphold the law. PFL monitors and paralegals act as informal investigators on behalf of pre-trial detainees, often reaching out to detainees’ families and to complainants to determine possible remedies, outside of court proceedings, to facilitate detainees’ release. PFL’s work ensures the right to liberty for indigent defendants and that the justice system in Liberia is rights-respecting and its efforts have led to concrete results in strengthened state processes to secure the release of detainees and the passage of new legislation to improve case processing.
PFL has also forged successful working relationships with justice actors in collaborative reform efforts and is actively demonstrating that small, on-the-ground civil society groups can make inroads in a difficult post-conflict context.