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Legal aid in South Africa: making justice reality

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  10 June 2005

Abstract

Democracy and the adoption of a Bill of Rights for South Africa not only brought about political change, but it also created expectations of a better life for all. The Constitution guarantees equality before the law, access to a fair hearing and the right to legal representation in criminal matters, and the Legal Aid Board is one of the institutions tasked with giving effect to these pledges. In order to achieve its objectives and to fulfil its obligations, government embarked upon a process of transformation of existing structures and institutions and the creation of new ones. Although legal aid, and statutory provision therefore, are not new concepts in South Africa, constitutionalization resulted in the restructuring of the Legal Aid Board and changes in the method of delivery of its services. The focus is on rendering legal representation in criminal matters to the neglect of civil and non-legal problems that the poor often face, resulting in the impression that government is merely paying lip service to the promise of access to justice. This lends credence to the perception that the legal system exists in order to protect the interests of criminals. Being a developing country, it is comprehensible that priorities have to be set, but it is also true that optimum use should be made of existing structures and resources in order to deal with the needs for legal aid services as expressed by the recipients of those services. Involving students and local government are two methods that can be employed to address the multi-farious problems experienced by the less fortunate members of society.

Type
Research Article
Copyright
© 2005 School of Oriental and African Studies

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