By Ann McRae
This question initially crossed my mind when I was invited to speak about the use of paralegals in delivery of legal services. Conference organizers felt that as an Ontario legal aid lawyer, I had much knowledge and experience to share with conference participants. Through research and preparation, I came to learn how much Ontario’s legal aid structure and administration of justice has useful lessons for other jurisdictions.
In partnership with law societies from Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya, the Canadian Bar Association (CBA) is providing support and resources to a conference titled “Supporting Access to Justice for Children and Youth in East Africa”. The topics at the three-day event have been chosen to meet the needs and interests of the law societies, judges, court administrators, policy makers and non-government agencies, all of whom are working to improve the awareness and protections of children’s rights in the participating East African countries. A small group of Canadians are sprinkled into the panels and presentations to provide a unique and more established perspective.
The CBA has sponsored three Toronto clinic lawyers to cover three topics at the event taking place in Naivasha, Kenya, from October 29 to October 31. Mary Marrone, Director of Legal Services at the Income Security Advocacy Centre will speak on “The how and why of community engagement in needs assessments – strategies.” Emily Chan, Community Development Lawyer at Justice for Children and Youth will give a presentation on “Public Legal Education for Children and Youth”. As Director of Legal Services at the Rexdale Community Legal Clinic, my talk will be on “Strengthening Access to Justice through Non-Lawyers in the Canadian Legal Aid System”. I plan to focus on the use of paralegals in legal service delivery, including staff offices and community legal workers at clinics.
Ontario enjoys a better-funded judicial system and a better-funded scheme of legal assistance than many around the world. In other jurisdictions, particularly those in developing countries, duty counsel and community legal assistance is provided mostly by pro bono lawyers or non-government agencies. The quality and accessibility of these services varies widely. The structure and range of services offered by Legal Aid Ontario is of great interest to our counterparts in East Africa, and we are looking forward to sharing our knowledge and experience with them.
At the end of three days with the African delegates, we will learn what parts of the Ontario experience are most valuable in an East African context, and undoubtedly bring home valuable lesson to share.
Ann McRae is the Director of Legal Services at the Rexdale Community Legal Clinic.