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Legal aid is a basic right

19th December 2012
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Editorial Cartoon

As the country’s legal set-up welcomes new advocates, it has been revealed that despite their yearly certification by the Law School of Tanzania, the country still faces a shortage of the professional cadre which is crucial in helping the ordinary person pursue justice.

 They are in short supply, but more so in the way they are distributed in the country, a problem Chief Justice Mohamed Chande Othman declared needed new strategies to solve.

As of now the country has only 3000 advocates. They are expected to serve the country’s population of 42 million people (that is to those who can afford to hire them).

Even then there is no equal distribution of the available advocates in the country, with about 70 percent of them being based and working in Dar es Salaam, while some newly established regions like Geita have no single advocate. It leaves a huge gap in the delivery of justice to the population generally.

Understandably Dar es Salaam with its intense level of national and international activity, generates luring business for advocates, making it more comfortable to operate in.

But the government should focus on the need to improve legal services in the countryside, where there are also serious infringements of the law and rights violations.

It is apparently in this context that the government is responding to the challenge of enabling the ordinary wananchi access legal aid more easily. Already legal aid secretariat is in place to cover the gap, with paralegals being enabled to legally help the people.

This is a smart move and we applaud the government for such consideration, which we are sure if properly planned will make a difference in the delivery of justice.

However, we should also try to consult countries which have employed the approach of assigning advocates to those who cannot afford to hire them directly, to see how successful the exercise has been.

The challenge of getting more professionals trained to help the people access legal services must also be realistically addressed.

There is need therefore to ensure that besides enacting the law, the government looks into training hitches, one of which has been cited as the Law School fee structure. 

A number of law graduates who did well in their studies cannot afford the tuition fee for the law school. For instance those who enrolled in law school this year were required to pay a tuition fee of 1,575,000/-. Realistically, not all graduates can afford the amount right after school or even a few years later, for the amount is just for tuition expenses, meaning it does not include other expenses like books, research expenses, field work expenses, and other special requirements like advocate’s attire.

We should bear in mind that the same graduates who are to attend law school include those who could not afford to pay for their tuition fee in the universities. With some financial assistance we could quickly increase the number of advocates being sworn in every year and help push the right of people to legal aid as a human right.

SOURCE: THE GUARDIAN