Government funding versus independence of paralegal projects

During the session on government partnerships in the citizenship paralegal roundtable in Istanbul, a very critical discussion arose. This discussion was inspired by a colleague from Nepal. He shared with us their experience where the government has acknowledged the importance and the roles of paralegals and even funds the paralegal project.

This has left me thinking about the legal aid bill that civil society and the law society of Kenya are pushing for in the country. Most of us believe that it is the most sustainable approach for paralegal projects. From the experience of Nepal, the funding can be guaranteed but with a shortcoming where the paralegal project loses its independence. The paralegal project in Nepal was adopted by the Ministry of Gender and Social Welfare. The future was guaranteed, but so was their loss of independence. In the real context it changed from the independent voice of the voiceless to the employee and employee relation where the employees’ voice can not override the employer’s voice. To the extreme where the paralegals were turned into a political tool where the change of government meant the need for change of all paralegals since their loyalty was in doubt.

@lore @lauragoodwin @Purity_Wadegu @staceycram Do you think this can be the case in Kenya? From your experience what do you think could be done differently to ensure the financial sustainability through government funding at the same time independence of paralegal projects? @kanchikohli @katiehill @krithikadinesh @deylacurtis @danielsesay @fatimaadamu @zena @yasahkym

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The independence of funding is a tricky issue when it comes to advocating for legal aid to essentially challenge government decisions. I used to manage a legal rights project for children and young people in London, UK, which used paralegals to give legal advice to homeless children and young people. The project was funded by the local government as part of a Community Law Centre, and ultimately the funding was used for the paralegals and associated lawyers to bring judicial review actions against the same local government for failing in their legal duties to house homeless children and young people. The head of social services and housing put a lot of pressure on the government department that was responsible for allocating funding to withdraw funds or to make them conditional on our services being less litigious, but he was not successful. Paralegal services need to be seen as an accountability mechanism which should be State funded, and thankfully the relevant government officials recognised this. This was partly because they were accountable to national government departments who approved of their funding paralegal services, so it was also in their interests to do so. Perhaps publicising the government’s work in promoting good governance by funding the paralegal services is one way to address the apparent conflict of interest. I think it also helps if the paralegal funding can come from a different department to the department affected by their work. In the end whether or not this is possible in practise depends on how willing the government is to be held accountable, and to what degree the relevant departments suffer from corruption.