Items filtered by date: Friday, 08 October 2021
Distinguished legal aid officials and participants,
It is with singular pleasure and satisfaction that I welcome you to this landmark Consultative Meeting on the SADC GBV Model Law. As you may be aware, this Consultative Meeting is being held after fruitful consultative meetings with all stakeholders in the legal fraternity – Indeed, the Forum has successfully garnered the views from judges and judicial officers, Magistrates, SADC lawyers and jurists, as well as prosecutors, to cite a few.
The fact that the Forum is today consulting with Legal Aid Officials demonstrates the depth of the Consultations engaged. Indeed, it would have been a missed opportunity not to engage Legal Aid officials who are themselves the custodians and guarantors of access to justice.
- Why is the consultation with Legal Aids Officials important?
It is trite that Legal Aid constitutes a gateway for access to justice for those who are at the bottom of the social ladder and cannot afford to pay court and counsel’s fees. This is compounded with the fact that unreported cases of GBV is often from the most vulnerable segment of society, and thus GBV complainants need to apply for legal aid to be able to adequately seize the court system, especially where civil matters are concerned.
In this respect, protection orders, occupancy orders or tenancy orders which are issued by the Court in the context of GBV offending are all involved with the legal aid process. In addition, in the criminal justice system, depending on the SADC Member State jurisdiction, legal aid can also assist GBV complainants who attend a police station without counsel. In short, legal aid comes at the rescue of those who cannot pay for their own legal fees.
In the context of the GBV Model Law, the Forum wanted to ensure that the Model Law contains sufficient legal aid provisions to assist GBV complainants, victims, or other GBV stakeholders, hence this engagement of paramount importance with you today.
- Legal aid and human rights
Having said the above, I would like to give some insight into the linkages between the Forum’s mandate and the provision of legal aid in SADC Member States.
As you may be aware, the Forum has clear objectives to promote a culture of human rights and to ensure gender equality in accordance with its Strategic Plan (2019-2023). While GBV is a clear infringement of several human rights such as the right to health, physical integrity, and the prohibition of torture and inhuman treatment, access to justice is equally another human right. Access to justice refers to prompt access to the court system through affordable avenues and with limited delay to obtain redress.
Thus, while eradicating GBV and implementing human rights, the Forum needs to consider all relevant human rights comprehensively, through a purposive approach.
At the same time, the Forum as an institutional organ of the SADC stands guided by the SADC Regional Strategy for GBV (2018-2030). The Regional Strategy has earmarked the need for a human rights compliant legal framework for GBV that could assist GBV victims in all SADC Member States.
The initiative of the Forum to prepare and implement the SADC GBV Model Law thus marks the convergence of several imperatives and priorities which have ripened over the years both regionally and at the national level. Additionally, the Model Law is a continuation of commitments taken through the Abuja Declaration, Sustainable Development Goal 5 as well as the AU’s Africa Agenda 2063. The Forum is thus threading on the right path of implementation of human rights and addressing its obstacles when it is weaving the issue of legal aid into the GBV discourse and reflecting same in its flagship Model Law.
- What does the Forum expect from Legal Aid Officials
Distinguished Legal Aid Officials and participants,
Before I end, I wish to share a few pointers to guide today’s session. During this session, you are encouraged to interact openly and frankly with the Legal drafter and the facilitator.
You may wish to consider whether and to what extent should legal aid apply in the realm of GBV, and if it does apply which areas of the Model Law need to be revisited to ensure that legal aid is available to GBV complainants.
Furthermore, there is a need to provide for a means test for legal aid which would give a framework for national jurisdictions to consider. Since the SADC Model Law is a benchmarking legal instrument which will remain as a yardstick for SADC Member Parliaments, specific figures in the means test need not be given. Yet, parameters for legal aid may be considered in view of assisting Member Parliaments in the legislative process to devise a means test. For instance, it is now well known that considering income of an individual alone is not sufficient for legal aid, and that both income and assets are to be considered. Yet, there is a need to ascertain how to consider both income and assets and set parameters for same in a way which is human rights friendly and does not unduly prejudice meritorious applications for legal aid. This balancing exercise would thus be an important consideration for legal aid officials as they consider the provisions of the Model Law and devise a means test that could be used as a broad benchmark.
Having given the above essential pointers, I thank you again for your attendance today and wish you all a pleasant session.
Ms B.Sekgoma, Secretary General,
SADC Parliamentary Forum 8th October 2021