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Paralegals to Fight for Rights.

Byline: Frances Shaahama

Paralegals claiming to work on a professional basis for profit have established a committee known as the Namibia National Paralegal Professionals Committee (NNPPC) to pursue and promote their interests.

Following numerous unsuccessful attempts to gain a recognised legal status, the so-called paralegals have now decided to form a pressure group in the form of the NNPPC.

The NNPPC was launched on 25 March 2009 in Windhoek by Alex Kamwi, who is the Chairperson, and its Secretary ?Khikhoe //Gowaseb, as well as other members. The main aim is to establish a commercial professional paralegal association in the future.

"In this country the paralegal profession is degraded. Their dignity as enshrined in the constitution is not respected or upheld by the judiciary system. Paralegals are simply not allowed to represent another person in the court of law in Namibia even if they are qualified or competent. The NNPPC is going to change this," Kamwi said.

Kamwi also quoted the Namibian Constitution article 21 (1) (j) saying that all persons have the right to practice any profession or carry on any occupation, trade or business.

"It is written there in black and white but for some reason that article does not apply to paralegals. I don't know of any law in Namibia that restricts paralegals in Namibia. The constitution is therefore being distorted by the judiciary system because it is scared of competition. What happened to practising any profession of your choice?" he said.

According to Kamwi, practising as a paralegal just makes justice more accessible to the Namibian community. He said there is absolutely no difference between a paralegal, lawyer or advocate.

"Article 10 (1), (2) says all persons shall be equal before the law and that no persons may be discriminated against on the grounds of sex, race, colour, social or economic status and so forth. But paralegals are not equal before the law. In fact, lawyers are seen as more qualified and more experienced then paralegals which is discriminatory and violates our right to dignity," Kamwi said.

Director of the Legal Assistance Centre, Norman Tjombe said the fact that certain legal work is limited to lawyers is not a discrimination against paralegals.

"The same analogy would apply to certain tasks being limited to qualified medical doctors, which will exclude paramedics. The professions should be allowed to set standards of professionalism and academic qualifications. Paralegals can play a valuable role in our society where the majority are unable to afford the legal fees. But to allow paralegals to represent persons in courts and other tribunals as if they are lawyers will have real challenges, particularly on the training and competencies of the paralegals," he said.

Tjombe added: "Lawyers receive many years of intensive training into the finer aspects of the law, to analyse a set of facts and how to apply the law that those set of facts. Apart from short course being offered by some non-governmental organisations, such as the Legal Assistance Centre, there are no other recognised diploma or degree courses being offered by tertiary institutions in Namibia.

"I know that some South African universities may offer paralegal training, but these are by far not sufficient to competently represent persons on courts of law. For instance, to have a Certificate in Law from UNISA will not qualify you to dissect a complicated constitutional or administrative law matter, nor a simple and straightforward divorce case. A criminal defendant would also not want to leave his or her fate in the hands of someone who may have had a few days of theoretical training in criminal law and criminal procedure."

However, according to Kamwi, a paralegal is not a layperson but a profession just like any other, despite the fact that most people who work under the label paralegal have not received any formal training

"Everything a lawyer knows, I also know. The only difference is the title. But In terms of qualifications and competency, we are the same. I decided to become a paralegal because it is a personal choice and because I decided to study up until this specific level," he said.

Kamwi was basically bankrupted when he lost a claim for damages against him and has in the meantime changed his strategy, diverting from civil claims to criminal charges against those opposing him.

Kamwi said he holds a Diploma in Law and a Diploma in Legal Studies and is currently studying for an advanced and post-graduate Diploma in Law. Since he started practising as a paralegal in 2006, he has won six cases and lost none.

Yet, he fails to mention that he has lost several cases against practising lawyers and the Law Society of Namibia in his efforts to gain official recognition. He fails to explain why he does not read an LLB so that he can freely practise the career of his choice as allowed in Article 21 of the Constitution.

Recognition for the paralegal professionals by the justice system by allowing them audience in courts and tribunals, to ensure that paralegal professionals practice under their names and to ensure that the insurance industry contract paralegal professionals are just some of the aims and objectives that the NNPPC hopes to achieve.

Distributed by AllAfrica Global Media. (allafrica.com)
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Publication:Namibia Economist (Windhoek, Namibia)
Date:Apr 9, 2009
Words:875
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