Environmental Justice Learning Exchange Panel Discussion #1: Paralegal Training and Development

This past February, the Global Legal Empowerment Network, Namati Sierra Leone and the Centre for Policy Research-Namati Environmental Justice program hosted a learning exchange in Sierra Leone. @exchange_2018sierraleone

The focus of the exchange was the environmental justice approach for working with communities embodied in the Practice Guide for Environmental Justice Paralegals. The exchange brought together legal empowerment practitioners from across Africa and India, which included staff from both Namati Sierra Leone and India. Participants explored comparative methods and strategies in a workshop setting; visited communities affected by extractive industries; and held in-depth discussions with local community paralegals about the handling of ongoing environmental justice cases.

During the introductory workshop, 6 posters were put up around the room on (1) paralegal training and development; (2) community mobilization and facilitation; (3) communication with donors, media, government, communities, in negotiations; (4) working on policy advocacy with government; (5) non-legal strategies; (6) legal strategies. On each of these posters, participants were invited to note their strengths and challenges in these areas. Then three participants who had noted strengths were invited to lead a panel discussion in each of these areas. In that way, there were a total of 6 panel discussions throughout the two weeks.

The first panel discussion on paralegal training & development featured @danielsesay, Program Officer at Namati Sierra Leone, @bharatpatel, Senior Program Manager at the Centre for Policy Research-Namati Environmental Justice program, and @Nyaradzo an attorney for the Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association.

The discussion started with the importance of evidence-based advocacy in paralegal work. The discussion centered on how it is essential to gather sufficient evidence to make one’s case succinctly and effectively, linking this evidence with research studies that show the impacts of certain industries on the environment, and taking care to use data already gathered by the government where possible for the evidence to be taken seriously. An additional point raised was the importance of having a “problem statement”–a succinct description of what the problem is, who is causing the problem, and what law the actor is breaking. This will describe the issue and what the government institution needs to do about succinctly in a situation where government actors rarely have time to listen. Other points discussed included how to engage with a community’s expectations, how to successfully recruit community paralegals, and how to conduct successful paralegal training. Paralegal safety was a major concern of many of the participants and concrete ways to deal with this issue were discussed.

Over the next few weeks, we will be posting the summaries of these panel discussions to spread the information and knowledge shared during these sessions with the rest of the network. Please let us know if you have any questions or comments for the panelist by posting below.