The Access to Justice project of the LRC allows those who cannot afford legal services to have access to legal assistance to defend their rights.
Statistics released by Statistics SA show that 52% of the people in rural areas are unemployed and 32,2% of households in these areas depend on government grants as their main source of income. Many of these people cannot deal with the enormous difficulties they face without access to the legal justice system.
Even today, in the second decade of democracy, access to justice remains something that the majority of South Africans cannot even dream about. The reasons include the high level of poverty and associated marginalisation, particularly in the rural areas, lack of infrastructure and State capacity, the scarcity of legal skills in impoverished areas, illiteracy and ignorance of what the Bill of Rights and the Constitution entitles people to.
In order to give effect to the potential transformation that the Constitution seeks to bring about, to provide everyone with the right to have any dispute that can be resolved by the application of law decided in “a fair public hearing”, and to fulfill the requirements of many Acts of the democratic Parliament that imply or explicitly endorse the need for legal aid in civil matters legal advice in civil matters is essential. We believe that it is a cornerstone of development and democracy.
In many cases the LRC has been the only organisation able to provide basic legal assistance which makes a difference between justice and the total lack thereof for many.
The LRC’s Access to Justice work has the following objectives:
Ultimately the LRC’s intervention gives impoverished people and communities an opportunity to access and implement their constitutional rights.
Front desk service
Through our front desk service we provide assistance to walk-in clients and are often able to help through the referral of matters to law clinics, advice centres and relevant government and non-government agencies. The Access to Justice work also assists us in identifying cases with significant potential impact on the law and justice in areas that the LRC focuses on.
Our Access to Justice work deals directly with a wide variety of issues including pension and insurance inquiries, consumer protection cases, unemployment insurance claims, workmen’s’ compensation claims and children requiring placement.
Networking and advocacy
The LRC seeks to increase the sharing of information and networking with a range of organizations involved in public interest law and paralegal work. Together with other NGOs, Community Advice Centres, the Legal Aid Board and university law clinics, the LRC has formed a number of informal clusters through which to assist people who seek legal advice. Such approaches also assist with regard to referrals.
The LRC continues to interact with advice offices in certain areas. It is recognised that there is a need to establish a common approach to the way in which Advice Offices are serviced and to consider the possible impact of the establishment of Justice Centres and other government service/information centres on their work.
One of the objectives is to strengthen Advice Offices by providing them with training and legal support. The interaction with Advice Offices includes telephonic contact that is sometimes followed up with an exchange of documents on the basis of which specific support can ensue.
The LRC has experienced a reduction in the number of files brought back to our offices for further attention. This is mainly as a result of the dire financial situation that many of the Advice Offices find themselves in. In some situations Advice Office staff do not have telephones, fax machines or even stationary. These unfortunate circumstances directly affect those rural areas where these centres offer the only possible access to free legal assistance.
Workshops and training
One of the objectives is to strengthen Advice Offices by organising training which is conducted either by LRC staff or individuals with whom the LRC works closely. Some examples of these are: