SAJCEA First Steps towards Regional Collaboration: Regional Conferences 2013

In October 2013, SAJCEA project members from Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya as well as lawyers from the Canadian Bar Association gathered in Naivasha, Kenya to share their knowledge and strategies for strengthening access to justice and to participate in a unique opportunity to achieve access to justice for children and youth.

The first day began as participants shared their expectations for the conference including building capacity on gender equality, learning more about children’s rights, developing a regional network, sharing legal challenges facing children and youth, knowledge sharing around policy making, and finally learning from international experts on strengthening the SAJCEA project.

Eric Matua, Chair of the Law Society of Kenya, opened the day’s events with reflections on the impact of rapid economic change in Kenya on children and the unplanned consequences in terms of potential displacement and dislocation.

Andrea Redway, acting Director of International Development, spoke about the history of the Canadian Bar Association’s relationship with its regional partners. The SAJCEA project reflects the CBA experience of multiparty collaboration among justice system stakeholders including government, the judiciary, private bar, and civil society, in developing law reform initiatives. Locally driven, the National Working Groups in each country will provide a strong collaborative framework among the various institutions and civil society in achieving access to justice and child rights reforms.

Each of the National Working Groups provided a report to the group regarding the legal framework for children in their countries, their annual workplan, and some of the challenges they have faced.  In Kenya, the group traced the development of child rights in Kenya, including legislative and constitutional developments culminating in the new Constitution in 2010, and the ongoing legislative reform initiatives focussed on incorporating international and constitutional rights guarantees for children, and access to justice through legal aid.  The group provided a brief summary of their annual workplan, highlighting the baseline study of pro bono services, ongoing work to strengthen gathering of information through a database in the Children’s Court, and development of alternative dispute resolution techniques including diversion in youth justice matters.

The UNWG outlined the relevant laws affecting children including the Constitution (1995), the Childrens Act, the Penal Code, Police Act,The Local Councils Act and the Succession Act.  The group reported on the Busia needs assessments, which included visits to local institutions and government bodies, as well as members of the community including children and women in several districts within Busia. The results of the needs assessment were highlighted.

The TNWG provided a summary of the legal framework affecting children in Tanzania and Zanzibar, as well as the challenges presented by the current legal framework including the inconsistencies presented by the conflict in the laws governing the age of consent for marriage and the social problem of early marriages. 

Discussion ensued regarding early marriage and the legal reforms necessary to achieve the social change necessary to advance the interests of girls and women. After some exchange, it was recognised that this was a problem common to all three countries, complicated by cultural and religious values, and a fruitful area for regional exchange and collaboration in law reform initiatives.

An overview of the constitutional and legislative framework in Canada including the status of Canada’s implementation of its international obligations was provided by Claire McNeil. In the field of child justice, the legislative and policy efforts to reducing the incarceration rate among children and youth in Canada and the impact of extra-judicial measures, in the form of a provincial restorative justice program, was discussed. The Canadian experience shows that legislative reform coupled with collaboration and community support and engagement succeeded in achieving a reduction in incarceration rates that legislative reforms alone failed to achieve.

The importance of community-based participatory legal needs assessments as an aid in strategic planning in the development for legal aid programs and services was highlighted by Mary Marrone, who also presented a research model and toolkit for needs assessments. Findings from those studies went on to inform law reform and test case priorities. Elinor Chemonges, Dotto Justo and Clement Okech provided local and regional perspectives on needs assessment based on their experience.

Participants identified a number of benefits of conducting needs assessments including informing strategic planning and priority setting, building relationship within community, and understanding gaps between the literature and reality on the ground. Including local leaders within and outside government is important to develop a sense of ownership, and open doors in the community to facilitate information gathering. 

Tips on building an effective National Working Group were provided by Apollo Mboya, LSK Executive Director and KNWG Chair, who outlined strategies to improve cohesion and collaboration among working group members.  He was joined by Dotto Justo and Rachel Otoiin who illustrated the key considerations and challenges for the NWGs. 

Darren Thorne, Canadian Project Manager, spoke about the project planning and development process and in particular the formulation of annual workplans. Groups must take a long view, to enhance continuity and sequence activities so that capacity is built overtime, for best results. Careful consideration of the national context, in designing a workplan is also important to ensure that the activities have long-term sustainability. Timelines and annual schedules provide important planning mechanisms as well as activity specific workplans, including the designation of specific members as point persons to implement the activities as well as identifying the need to enlist outside resources. Assessment of the previous year’s workplan to look for opportunities to fine-tune, or adjust, or build on previous activities will also provide guidance in designing future activities. Setting realistic and appropriate budgets as well as risks will also serve an important basis for planning future work. In terms of risk management, a political or institutional change outside the control of the NWG must be considered in evaluating the effectiveness and the need to find a new direction or alternative plan.

Emily Chan started her presentation on the “Nuts and Bolts of Public Legal Education” by highlighting some benefits of public legal awareness and education in changing attitudes, building legal skills and capacity, preventing problems through better decisionmaking, developing capacity for community action and initiatives for legal reform.  Information, self-help training, and community advocacy combine to achieve a strong public legal education framework. The goal of public legal education is to create materials and human interactions which are attractive, targeted, accurate, manageable, guiding, helpful, and which are identified by jurisdiction, date, and author. 

Regional initiatives were described by Margaret Mbusiro of the Cradle who  spoke of the “children’s parliament”, the 72 hour campaign for sexual abuse victims, and other public legal education initiatives on issues affecting children in Kenya. Aaron Besigye spoke on behalf of the Uganda Law Society concerning their legal information campaigns and Reginald Makoko spoke about challenges faced in Tanzania in terms of language, distance and lack of resources.

Ann McRae spoke about the role of non-lawyers in casework, advocacy, community development (public awareness, organising community engagement, catalyst for change), law reform (including test case litigation – court workers identify recurrent issues and appropriate clients).  Regional presenters, Lilian Njeru, Jeremia Mtobesya, and Elinor Chemonges provided their perspectives and experience regarding paralegals in the East African context, from Uganda, where legislation requires NGOs offering legal services to employ at least one paralegal and where paralegals are active in the community and the prisons, to Tanzania where there is no consensus regarding a definition or regulation of paralegals, to Kenya where a legal aid bill is proposed which will includes a definition accredited paralegals, who will provide pro bono or free services, and sets standards for education.

The 3 day conference closed with questions from the floor and acknowledgement of the Canadian and regional contributors to the forum and a request for feedback concerning topics for next year’s Regional Forum.