How have paralegals resolved disputes where power balances exist between the parties involved?

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How have paralegals resolved disputes where power balances exist between the parties involved?

Please consider the following questions to help get this discussion topic started:

  • How have paralegals addressed challenges involving political interference or government officials?
  • How have paralegals addressed challenges involving customary justice officials?
  • What guidelines or training do you provide to paralegals to help them address power imbalances between parties?
  • How have paralegals resolved disputes that impacted the entire community as opposed to individual parties? What were the challenges?

Share your thoughts, experiences, questions, challenges and ideas by replying to the comments below.

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Conflict resolution

Conflict resolution is also an important component of paralegal training packages, alongside advocacy, counselling, relationship building and basic legal skills training.Political interference will always be a hurdle for the paralegals; by virtue of them being placed in communities. Involving the political leaders from the onset in planning and implementation and holding targeted and specialist sensitisation trainings and meetings to cushion the paralegals from too much interference.

For the customary structures, for Zimbabwe, the challenge is to sensitise the presiding officers to be sensititive to women and children's plight. So far, it has been a challenge to tilt the negative attitude and harmful cultural belief scale in favour of the minority groups such as women and children. The legal structure has also not been helpful as no representation is allowed in the local courts. There is hope though as the current constitution allows for a blanket representation at any adjudicating forum.

The trained paralegals are more likely to face challenges when addressing conflicts between individuals rather that with entire communities. This is because any issue that comes up becomes a community issue and the paralegal is only there to facilitate change, holistic protection, etc.


Conflict resolution in gender violence cases

Hi Chinga, thanks for these useful thoughts. You mentioned the challenge is to sensitize officers to be sensitive to the rights of women and children. Do you have any suggestions or 'best practices' on how to improve these actors' response to vulnerable populations such as women and children, and how to shift the scale in favor of these minority groups?  Are there any tactics or methods that have worked? Is it possible for paralegals to work closely with other actors in the customary system to sensitize them on women's and children's rights, and how to respond to cases? 

In addition, some of the individual disputes paralegals come across often are relating to family disputes and especially cases of gender based violence. Do you have any suggestions on how paralegals can effectively 'resolve' those kinds of disputes while also supporting the rights of women and children in such cases? 

Resolving community disputes + Resistance from prison officials

Thanks, Chinga! That is helpful to know. Recently, I looked into how community-based mechanisms (such as mediation programs or paralegals) have an impact on land grabs or land acquistions. Do you know of any cases where paralegals may have had to deal with such an issue (even if only indirectly?) I suppose other instances where I've seen paralegals get involved with issues impacting the entire community have been when government agencies or businesses abuse their authority in a way that has a negative impact on the entire community. Have you seen instances like this and if so, how did paralegals address these challenges? Was there any guidance from others?

Shom: Following up on the question I asked about training prisoners in the other conversation topic, I was curious to know whether you've found that prison authorities were resistant to training prisoners as paralegals. This was something that occured in Kenya and I'm curious to know whether you've encountered the same thing and how paralegals faced this challenge. 

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Prison authority cooperation to train prisoners as paralegal

Hi Christina

In Nepal prison authorities have been positive to organize trainings to paralegal. We have not faced any problems. We apply different strateges on it, which may be useful to you.

  1. Arrange permission from higher level( such as Home Ministry)
  2. Mobile prison authority as resource person in training


Have prison authority benefited from paralegals in prisons?

It would be great to hear of any examples in which prison guards and officials support (and/or actually benefit??) from the work of paralegals in prisons.

- Kristin Antin, New Tactics Online Community Builder

Prison authorities supporting criminal justice paralegals

Kristin, here is a beautiful film about a paralegal in Sierra Leone who has earned the respect and coopration of prison guards and officials through her dedicated work defending the rights of pre-trial detainees.



Paralegals help to reduce population in prison

Great video and example, Abby! Thanks for sharing. It's a great example of how prison officials benefit from the work of paralegals because, as the paralegals explains:"they know I am helping to reduce the population in prison."

- Kristin Antin, New Tactics Online Community Builder

Paralegals benefitting police

Here is another account of a legal empowerment practitioner whose paralegal program benefited the police service:

"In a situation where a suspect has alleged before a magistrate that he was tortured, a police officer prosecuting the case could request a magistrate to attend the matter, and then invite a paralegal to come and testify what he observed in that interview.

At the same time, paralegals are also monitoring the situation of holding suspects for a long time on the pretense of treating the investigation.  This practice is no longer acceptable by the law, and the paralegals are there to monitor whether there is adherence to the constitutional provision that says suspects should only be held within a specific period of time...

This has not only helped the suspects, it has also helped to improve the service delivery of the Malawi police service.  It reduces the burden of keeping people for long in police custody.  At the same time, it frees the minimal resources that do exist for real and serious cases.

So the police service is very supportive of the work of the paralegals because they have seen that the paralegals are not there to spy on their work, but rather to complement their work, and so they are happy to have the paralegals around."

The full interview transcript can be read here:

....or viewed on youtube below.


Address power imbalance between parties in conflict resolution

For over a decade, community mediation has been an effective means of providing access to justice in Nepal. This has been particularly critical at the local level where inadequacies of formal justice systems have resulted in heavy reliance on Alternative DIspute Resolution mechanisms as the predominant method for conflict resolution. Gender, social justice, and identity transformative trainings provided to mediators are focused on addressing power relations between the parties - men and women, upper caste and lower caste, rich and poor.These trainings have given space and opportunities to mediators from differents groups from within the community to uphold the dignity and equality of the people involved in dispute, give all parties safe space to articulate their needs, equal access to information, insure that parties are fully informed about their legal rights, and hold parties accountable for their committments. This has given opportunities to parties to expore, understand, and reflect on each other's needs and experiences. Such exploration, understanding, and reflection are inergral to gender and social integration in communities.  

Creating local level, citizen action mediation bodies in Nepal

Thank you for sharing your experiences from Nepal, Preeti! I wanted to share a case study that New Tactics' has documented about the alternative dispute resolution mechanisms supported by the Center for Victims of Torture in Nepal:

The Centre for Victims of Torture (CVICT) in Nepal instituted a tactic to circumvent the problem of police abuse through a process of rights-based community mediation. This community mediation process was piloted in three districts of the country. CVICT adapted the general community mediation process to meet the specific needs of women through instituting Women’s Peace Committees. The tactic trains local people as mediators and resources to their communities on basic laws and human rights. In addition, it has served as a vehicle to empower women to become community leaders, addressing their individual and collective needs. The tactic can be especially helpful to those seeking to expand access to justice for people without other means of bringing complaints against the powerful and wealthy in their communities.

You can download the full case study here (available in English, Nepali and Kirghiz). While these volunteer mediators are not titled 'paralegals', they do very similar work and have similar goals. I'm sure that community paralegals could pick up a few ideas from this case study and the work of similar communities in Nepal!

- Kristin Antin, New Tactics Online Community Builder

How do paralegals resolve disputes

Paralegals act as data banks of information .They not only  have knowledge and skills on legal issues but on human rights issues  generally. In addition ,  some paralegals during their course of training  undergo  dispute resolution training as was the case during my  training by Legal Resources Foundation Trust. These skills came in handily especially when handling  issues  for instance  empowering children on their rights while parents and guardians are not at the same level of awareness on rights. One needs to  empower both parties  so that they can be aware   of what is violation  of rights. For instance the Legal Notice of 2001 has outlawed corporal punishment in Kenyan schools, however, there have been cases reported in the media where teachers with some having broken limbs and in extreme cases death beat children. In such instances  this calls for  using  various skills in empowerment of these groups .For teachers ,  the best methods is incorporating  what the Kenyan laws and policies say on corporal punishment  as well as inclusion of chiefs  and education officers in these trainings  to enable better understanding 

Information is power and many people wallow in injustice because they  of lack of information. Many approaches can be used to  balance  the power structures. Such include  sharing information in  the simplest way possible  such  printing of materials in local vernacular , using the media to  air  grievances on impact of  violations  such as   media coverage  on impact of  child labor on children  or  voices of children  on  corporal punishment.


Usage of  drama and poetry to communicate  legal messages  in a creative way is also appropriate .For instance poetry  on negativity of  sexual violence in the community   and the penalties of  sexual violence as contained  in the Sexual Offences Act  as for the case of Kenya ,parental responsibility towards child protection and so on can help reach out to many people  with information on rights  and responsibilities.


Paralegals  undertake property rights defense for women victims of property rights  violations through evictions  and dispossessions. Through defending rights, paralegals  tilt the power balances especially given that patriarchy  has deprived women of their  right to inherit property after the death of the husband.