Dear judge Mbadwa,
My lord, I have keenly followed the public hearings which the Nyasaland’s Native Assembly’s Legal Affairs Committee initiated nationwide to look into the proposal to allow Legal FirstAid Bureau paralegals some limited space to represent some poor clients in the lower courts.
From a layman’s point of view, the issue at hand hinges on the fact that there are many poor folk who are languishing on remand because they cannot access a lawyer despite the Constitution giving the needy the right of legal representation by a legal practitioner.
My lord, a lawyer has become the preserve of the rich, something that defeats the principles of equitable access to justice.
The FirstAid Bureau itself is currently overwhelmed such that its 25 lawyers cannot handle 24 072 cases it has on its lap.
If the Legal FirstAid Act is amended, as proposed my lord, the body’s 36 paralegals stationed in almost every district—other than cities where most professional lawyers are located—would significantly help reduce the backlog of cases against the poor but of course that would not be a solution.
The stakeholders that include your own Judiciary, civil society organisations, human rights bodies, the Prison Inspectorate whose chair is a venerated judge, religious groups and some individual lawyers, have all put their weight behind the proposal.
What is even remarkable is that the government’s constitutional body, the Nyasaland Human Rights Commission, have weighed in to support the proposal.
My lord, the key word used in the proposal is limited space, which would allay fears that the initiative that is currently working in Southern Rhodesia, Tanganyika and Unie van Zuid-Afrika, would lead to some chaos.
My lord, I thought what is really leading to promotion and entrenchment of inequality of the rich and less privileged at legal representation is the poor’s failure to access a lawyer because they cannot afford them and those available at FirstAid cannot serve every poor soul.
Viewed soberly, my lord, the proposal actually increases the government’s responsibility to the less privileged at legal representation level as more and more poor people will access services of a paralegal at lower courts, whose cases are largely handled by paralegal lay magistrates, anyway.
My lord, I hope I was not emotional in this regard because it is not my intention to delve into pure propositional cosmetics to convince you that it should not be the fault of the poor that they do not have access to justice.
These are the issues, which your tribunal should consider soberly.
By the way, my lord, how many of your 627 lincensed counsels have taken interest to handle a few cases of the poor among the 14 500 people currently on remand in the truest sense of pro bono not otherwise?