Community Advice Office (CAO) Declaration on Community Paralegals
Johannesburg, 25 November 2014
We, the participants of the First National Symposium on the Community Advice Office Sector in South Africa convened jointly by the Association of Community Advice Offices of South Africa (ACAOSA) and the National Association for the Development of Community Advice Offices (NADCAO) in Johannesburg on 24 – 25 November 2014 recognize that the depth of poverty, social and access to justice needs can only be addressed through meaningful partnerships between government, the private sector and civil society.
Work by CAOs provides enormous benefits to vulnerable communities and to the justice sector as a whole. The grassroots location, skills, institutional capacity and credibility of the national network of Community Advice Offices (CAOs) is an undervalued national asset, which if correctly leveraged, can make a significant improvement in the quality of life of poor communities in South Africa. Solidarity with, and sustainability of the CAO sector by government, donors and the private sector, is central to national, provincial and local efforts to directly address poverty and promote human rights and democracy in South Africa.
We represent over 312 Community Advice Offices working to advance justice in all provinces in South Africa. Our collective experience has shown that community paralegals play an indispensable role in bridging the gap between law and society through the provision of holistic legal information and assistance, advocacy, education and referrals of clients for specialized social and legal services. The CAO sector has a long history of social contribution to South Africa having played a significant role in dismantling apartheid and in advancing democracy, human rights, and access to justice.
This declaration acknowledges and builds on the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, the 2012 Kampala Declaration, the United Nations Principles and Guidelines on Access to Legal Aid in Criminal Justice Systems, as well as earlier statements of principle, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights.
We resolve the following:
- To advance the mission of ACOSOA towards a united, credible, professional, skilled, regulated and sustainable CAO sector, providing high quality and accessible primary legal services, Alternative Dispute Resolution and other developmental services to ensure that the human rights of the indigent are promoted, protected and fulfilled
- We commit to strengthening the quality and consistency of community paralegal efforts, through mechanisms for training, supervision, evaluation, and community oversight. We seek to make our work more evidence-based, and to increase learning among programs across borders. To that end, we commit to participating in networks of paralegal organizations at national, regional, and international levels.
- We call on the South African government to recognize the role community paralegals play and its commitment to effectively participate in in the development of policy and legislation regarding paralegals.
- We call on governments and development partners to invest in the scale-up of community paralegal efforts, and recognize CAO sector for its social profit and contribution to the overall development imperatives of South Africa.
- State recognition should not entail state control. We call on government to respect the independence of community paralegals, so as not to hinder the crucial role paralegals play in holding the state accountable.
Signed on this 25th Day of November 2014 at Johannesburg.
List of Signatories