“Since you came, life in this village has changed”

Aug 8, 2016

UN Volunteers providing free legal aid services

Since its establishment, NALA has made tremendous efforts in providing free legal aid services, especially in the Greater Banjul area. However, due to significant financial and human resource constraints, NALA’s legal representation work is limited to capital offense cases such as murder, rape, drug trafficking, robbery, and treason, all types of cases involving children, and a few other types of serious criminal cases. This unfortunately leaves out the most common offenses such as theft or burglary, and civil cases affecting indigent persons in the rural areas of the country. As a result, poor persons involved in such cases have been left to face the justice system without proper access to legal aid—in contravention of the fundamental human right of access to justice.

“Since you came, life in this village has changed.” This is what the Seyfo (Chief of the district) said to welcome Mauro, a UN Youth Volunteer in Legal Aid at the Democratic Governance and Human Rights Unit of UNDP when their Mobile Legal Aid Clinics Team visited his village for the second time this year. 
His thanks were echoed by the Security Officer of the District Tribunal, who said that “now I know my powers and I can help the community.” The Seyfo himself had greatly benefited from the advice from NALA, and had returned for the second time with a new list of concerns.  Mauro and his team were astonished when the Seyfo proudly referred to some of the clients that they had advised last April, 2014: 
“Kebbah has gotten the land back that was taken away from him illegally... Omar is now sleeping again in his house... Aminatta is divorced from the husband that abandoned her and he is now paying for the maintenance of the children that he neglected.”

With UNDP support to fill this gap, and in efforts to decentralize legal aid services and ensure access to justice for even the poorest citizens in the most far-flung areas in the country, pilot mobile legal aid clinic projects were launched in 3 districts in the Upper River and North Bank Region. The project was conducted in close collaboration with the Alternative Dispute resolution secretariat (ADRS) and Paralegals from the University of The Gambia’s Law Faculty

The establishment of NALA was prompted by the country’s evident need for fair and speedy dispensation of justice for all regardless of financial means. As a result, upon its inception, it was given the mandate to synchronize and decentralize legal aid services throughout the country and to ensure that indigent people from all corners of The Gambia obtained equal access to justice. 
The success and impact of the Mobil Legal Clinics in The Gambia was quite immediate. The Mobile Legal Clinics took place for a cumulative period of 35 days in 4 regions of the Country, including prison visits. More than 1,000 persons received legal advice and almost 30% of them were women. 
The secret of the Mobile Legal Aid Clinics in The Gambia was that they were about much more than legal advice. The law is only the beginning, a tool with which people are empowered, develop an awareness of their rights, and gain the confidence and the capacity to claim them.

This project contributed a lot in terms of awareness of rights and how to address legal issues created. Knowledge on legal issues had increased and people are now in a position to 
solve disputes amicably without necessarily having to go to court. 

“Now I know my powers and I can help the community;” said by Security Officer of the District Tribunal

The idea is simple. By bringing a legal office from the capital to every doorstep in the country even the most vulnerable people, those who otherwise would not be able to reach the capital or afford to hire a lawyer, can obtain legal advice for free. Two mobile clinic teams are deployed on an alternating schedule, and three UN Volunteers (one international UN Volunteer, a national UN Volunteer and a UN Youth Volunteer) serve as members of the teams. Other team members include lawyers, paralegals, judges of the Islamic Courts (which deal with family and inheritance issues according to Shari’a law), mediators and interpreters—a fully trained and equipped mobile legal office.


HIGHLIGHTS:

•    The first ever Mobile Legal Aid Clinic in the history of The Gambia launched and legal 
Aid services taken to people in the grassroots a majority of whom are poor thereby 
increasing access to justice

•    Improved collaboration between state authorities, agencies such as ADRS and NALA 
which could go a long way in improving access to justice in The Gambia.
   
•    104 clients in the grassroots were provided legal advice on how to deal with legal issues 
affecting them.


 

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