Paralegal studies degree hailed

The Charles Stewart Mott Foundation lauded CPUT’s Bachelor of Paralegal Studies degree, as significant for the professionalisation of the paralegal field.

CPUT is the only institution in the country which offers this degree.

The foundation recently visited the Unit for Applied Law to learn more about the new degree programme and interacted with lecturers and students.

Lorenzo Wakefield, Programme Officer at the Foundation, says: “We’re looking at how best we can support the accessibility and inclusivity of community-based paralegals into the Bachelor of Paralegal Studies and we are having good discussions with the Unit for Applied Law.”

Wakefield added:  “Injustices happen to the people and they don’t know how to get justice, the formal legal fraternity is inaccessible,” he says. “We’re looking at how we can assist them with their research activities and support them to gain the most from the degree.”

This was a site visit by the global coordinator to gain insight into the activities of the Unit for Applied Law which the South African office proposes to fund, says the Unit’s Head, Adv. Noleen Leach.

Leach says the Unit has a Memorandum of Understanding with CAOSA (merged institutions of the National Alliance for the Development of Community Advice Offices) and the Association of Community Advice Offices of South Africa.

“The Mott Foundation is one of the funders of Community Advice Offices in the country.  Most paralegals in practice in the advice offices do not meet the prescribed admissions criteria for the Bachelor of Paralegal Studies programme and CPUT has terminated the age exemption option for access,” she says.

She adds that the foundation extended an invitation to the Unit to apply for funding for research that will inform the Recognition of Prior Learning instrument to be designed for access to the Bachelor of Paralegal Studies by community-based paralegals.  “They will be working in collaboration with the Open Society Foundation to ensure that especially community-based paralegals gain access to the programme.”

She argues that the need for paralegals have become critical in the light of the recent announcement by the South African government that it intends to cut legal aid by R500 million over the next three years.  “Cheaper legal services is an imperative if we are to ensure that the marginalised and the poor gain access to justice,” she concludes.

Bachelor of Paralegal Studies launched

The Bachelor of Paralegal Studies, which is the first degree of its kind on the continent, was recently launched for students on the Bellville Campus.

The three-year degree, is offered by the Unit of Applied Law in the Faculty of Business and Management Sciences.

Ivan van der Heever, Associate Dean of the Faculty of Business and Management Sciences, congratulated the students for making it to the new course which he described as a big milestone for CPUT and the country.

He urged them to make their studies their first priority and not be distracted by parties and romantic relationships.

“The focus should be to be successful in your course of study,” he said.

Hajiera Davids, a Community-based Paralegal in the Heideveld Advice Office since 1985, told the students that the degree will teach them about the norms of the profession.

Davids warned the students to be vigilant as human rights were being violated every day and cited the access to water and unlawful evictions as examples.

She said that paralegals previously started their training with a Street Law Project at UWC before attending the then Potchefstroom University for further training.

“We learnt a lot more from our fellow community members than academics,” she said.

Dr Bernard Martin, former Dean of Law at UWC, congratulated the unit for introducing the degree which he said will be an important qualification to have.

He added that the degree was a great stepping stone. “At some stage you may do your LLB degrees but you may stay there if you think the community is where your heart is,” he said.

Justice Albie Sachs, a retired Constitutional Court Judge, recounted how the struggle against apartheid led to him meeting the leaders of the liberation movement such as Nelson Mandela and Oliver Tambo who were from a totally different background from his.

He said that even in jail white political prisoners enjoyed some degrees of privileges which were not offered to their black counterparts.