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Paralegal Advisory Service Institute (Malawi)

Lilongwe, Malawi
Joined February 2012
Presence in: Malawi
The Paralegal Advisory Service started in Malawi in May 2000 as an initiative of Penal Reform International (PRI) who sought to create a public/private partnership linking four national NGOs with the Malawi Prison Service. It began with eight paralegals working in the four main prisons in the country. This remarkable event arose out of the Malawi Prison Service’s ‘open door’ policy and willingness to pilot a radical reform measure.
The PAS began by drafting a restrictive Code of Conduct with the MPS which placed ownership and authority to monitor the movements of the paralegals inside prisons firmly under prison officers’ control. Step by step, the paralegals then developed a work plan in consultation with the prison authorities and prisoners and gradually expanded their outreach to more prisons, recruiting more paralegals, as the programme took shape and demand for their services (from the prison authorities) grew.  Each team was equipped with computers, printers, a copier, cellphone for urgent communications and motor-cycles.

Emphasis is placed on keeping  costs to a minimum as it is the cost of providing legal aid services that inhibits so many governments from being able to afford and deliver meaningful legal aid services.By 2003, the PAS had 26 paralegals and reached 84% of the prison population. Responding to demand, the PAS next sought to develop services to assist persons in the courts and, initially, young persons at police stations. The ambition of the PAS had grown to provide not just advice and assistance to those in prison but to develop a national legal aid service available to all persons in conflict with the criminal law.

In 2007, the PAS as supported by PRI, evolved into the autonomous PAS Institute (PASI). Funding is gradually moving from the development partners into a Legal Aid Fund with which the PASI will enter a ‘co-operation agreement.’  One of the successes of the PAS (and reason for its low turn-over of paralegals) is that it has never stopped developing its range of services and quest for new partners. While the paralegals focus their work exclusively on the formal criminal justice, they have established links with the informal, ‘traditional’ justice fora  in rural communities (where the majority of people live).

The work in police stations with young people has led to the development of diversion schemes at police and court. The high number of minor criminal cases  (ie simple theft, criminal damage, assault) has led to the development of mediation services operated by faith-based organizations in the villages. In both cases, this link has enabled paralegals to refer appropriate cases/matters to these partners who live and work in the community – again at little cost.