An introduction to paralegal services in South Africa

Much like Rwanda’s historic relationship with community based paralegals and volunteers, South Africa also relied heavily on community based practices following the emergence from the country’s protracted conflict.  Despite a beautifully crafted constitution, the effects of Apartheid are still a significant part of life in South Africa, and community workers in rural areas work to achieve reform in areas of housing, land policies, education and health care.

Pursuant to the constitutional imperative to provide access to justice through the courts, the Legal Aid Act was passed in 2014. This act provides amongst others that there shall be a public entity to provide legal aid, Legal Aid South Africa, and a Legal Aid Board to govern the administrative affairs of this body.  The objects of legal aid are to make available legal aid and services, to provide legal representation to people at the expense of the state and to provide education and information on legal rights and obligations as envisaged in the Constitution and the Act. The Legal Aid Act only makes provisions for legal practitioners to offer free legal services. There are inadequate practitioners to service the needs of the entire population. CAOs (Community Advice Officers) through the work of paralegals, help to fill in that gap, as they are more readily accessible to those who require the services most.

Community-based paralegals fill this gap by providing dispute resolution and legal support that is both geographically and financially accessible and informed by a deep understanding of the social issues and everyday challenges facing their clients. Despite the prevalence and importance of paralegals in the South African justice sector, their role remains largely under-formalized and understudied.

Paralegals in South Africa Case Study

The National Alliance for the Development of Community Advice Offices (NADCAO). This organisation was formed in 2005 by an alliance of human rights organisations in response to a weakened CAO (Community Advice Officer) sector in South Africa. One of NADCAO’s priorities was to implement a sector development model that would ensure the sustainability of an effective and unified advice office sector in the country. NADCAO worked with approximately 320 CAO’s in all nine provinces throughout South Africa, each of which had representative structures that created partnerships with relevant stakeholders for provincial funding. NADCAO has since helped with the creation of the Association of Community Advice Offices of South Africa (ACAOSA), a member organization for CAOs in the country.

Additional information on paralegals in South Africa

Applicable Constitutional obligations:  Section 9 of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, Section 35.

Applicable Legislation: The Legal Practice Act 39 of 2014.

Resources: Paralegal Manual 2015 published by the Education and Training Unit and the Black Sash.

Training required: Legal Aid South Africa, Vacancy for a paralegal position at Phuthaditjhaba Justice Centre, Paralegal studies are offered on varying scales, from short courses (see for example the School of Paralegal Studies) to three-year degrees (see for example the Diploma in Law (Paralegal Studies) offered by the University of Johannesburg.

Organizations: Legal Aid South Africa (LASA), Black Sash, Lawyers for Human Rights, Helen Suzman Foundation, Wits Justice Project, Centre for Applied Legal Studies (CALS), Socio-economic Rights Institute of South Africa (SERI), Peace and Justice Institute, Centre for Study of Violence and Reconciliation (CSVR), Democratic Governance and Rights Unit (DGRU), Institute for Justice and Reconciliation (IJR), The Association of Community Advice Offices of South Africa (ACAOSA), Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution (CASAC), National Alliance for the Development of Community Advice Offices (NADCAO), Legal Resources Centre (LRC).