As the justice system continues to strive for advancement, another new implement has been introduced, which is aimed at better handling conflicts.
This new feature is the “Paralegal System” and its overall intention is to have this system in Amerindian and Non-Amerindian communities to enable residents to better deal with their disputes.
Paralegals are persons who are not lawyers but people who can be useful in that they help people understand the legal system.
At a workshop held recently, Project Consultant Melinda Janki and Attorney at Law Gino Persaud had outlined the various features, purpose, benefits and even the risks of the paralegal system.
Present at that workshop last week was Attorney General Charles Ramson SC, Acting Chief Magistrate Priya Beharry, AFC member Sheila Holder, PNC members George Norton and Basil Williams among other prominent attorneys. The Project is being coordinated by Madame Justice Claudette Singh.
The project is one component of Guyana’s Justice Sector Modernisation Program, in which government has invested considerable resources over the past five years, with the support of multilateral institutions and lenders. This project is being funded by the Inter American Development Bank.
Attorney General Charles Ramson in his remarks at the workshop described the project as a pivotal one in society.
He said that the rule of law must always be at the forefront of any democratic country and is very pleased to be associated with the project.
Interestingly, he noted that part of the process that would be looked at is to confront the Lay Magistrate’s Act that has been passed and that is awaiting the action of the Judicial Service Commission to give some sort of momentum to the design of the project.
Ramson said that it will give the ordinary man some form of informal justice. He said that the majority of the people going to court are in awe of the process and people tend to take advantage of them while they are still bewildered. To this end, he said that Paralegals become useful.
The paralegal system will be maintained by volunteers and therefore it is important to establish a structure for them, which will underpin the system and enable it to function effectively.
The volunteer strategy is designed to provide guidance on how to establish and maintain a system of paralegals based on volunteerism.
The success of the proposed paralegal system depends on the willingness of the volunteers to give of their time. It was explained that since the volunteers will not be paid a salary, it will be important to offer other incentives such as recognition, job satisfaction, a good working environment and most all , proper training.
The success of the paralegal system also depends on there being adequate resources to provide volunteers with the tools and equipment that they will need to operate effectively.
The purpose of the paralegal system……
The main purpose of the paralegal system is to offer an effective alternative to the formal system of justice in order to enable communities and individuals to resolve their disputes with each other.
The advantages of the paralegal system compared to the formal justice system are lower costs, speed and informal procedures, which are more user friendly. The paralegal system also enables parties to create more flexible solutions that go beyond the adversarial system of “winner and loser”.
Another purpose of the paralegal system is that it reduces the number of disputes which may arise in the future. Through her presentation, Project Consultant Melinda Janki, said that the system will enable communities and individuals to arrange their affairs, taking into account legal rights and responsibilities so that they can anticipate problems and take action to avoid them.
Beneficiaries of the paralegal system…..
The paralegal system is intended to benefit a wide range of people, some directly and others in directly.
The immediate beneficiaries are the volunteers, who benefit from the training. The volunteers will have more knowledge of the law and legal processes. Furthermore volunteers would know exactly what their constitutional rights are and how to ensure that their rights are respected.
The volunteers who go on to become paralegals will benefit further from being a part of the new paralegal system.
The next group of beneficiaries is the individuals and communities, who will make use of the paralegal system.
Individuals will have access to free advice from someone who is trained to solve problems.
The paralegal system will be able to explain to the disputants what the legal position is. Moreso, the justice system will benefit from the reduction in the number of disputes that it has to deal with either because existing disputes are being resolved informally through mediation or because the paralegal is able to deal with the situation in such a way that the conflict does not arise again.
Within the justice system, the potential beneficiaries include the Prosecution, the Magistrate, defence lawyers, witnesses and defendants.
Moreover the wider society also stands to benefit from a successful paralegal system, through reducing pressure on the courts and enabling poor and marginalized individuals to obtain justice.
Even though the justice system stands to benefit from the implementation of the paralegal system, there a few risks accompanied.
One major risk is the resistance based on the ignorance of what the paralegal system is about.
Another risk is resistance from vested interests. For example, some lawyers might see the paralegal as competition, some police officers might view them as interfering and make the administration of justice more difficult, while some Magistrates might not want to take them seriously.
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