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In most nations, rights and law are non-existent; put simply, they exist theoretically rather than practically. Legal empowerment and legal aid are part and parcel of legal reform. Largely, they not only include laws but informal and formal legal systems. To a great extent, the indigent are the greater beneficiaries of the legal aid. Governments that have good intentions for their citizens dedicate a substantial amount of resources on strengthening bar associations, processing of cases, training prosecutors and judges as well as rewriting laws to uphold the rule of law. However, questions always linger over whether the indigent are able to benefit from legal aid. Legal aid provides a platform for the poor to find justice in the courtroom.
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Strictly speaking, legal aid encompasses the criminal defendant’s counsel and paralegals work; initiatives aimed at legal empowerment as well activities aimed at advancing capacities, power and rights of the indigent. At the core of legal aid is protection of the right to life; nevertheless, this program receives minimal attention and funding more so that aimed at law and judicial reform. Development agencies and lawyers have often complained of non-enforcement of laws that are a result of reform. Consequently, it is necessary for the poor, media, nongovernmental agencies, paralegals and lawyers to seek implementation. Success in legal empowerment and legal aid solely relies on good judicial decisions as well as good laws.
Profit in the wake of legal aid
Currently, contemporary society operates under the notion that legal services are under the ambit of legal professionals. It is the same-trained legal professionals that are expected to provide legal aid. However, they usually have profit as their motive in the day-to-day operations; legal aid dictates that these professionals show some level of compassion, duty dynamics and professional ethics. Is legal aid threat to mainstream or professional legal service? No, in fact, the two run parallel such that they never conflict. For example whereas legal aid encompasses an active approach of soliciting for clients, professionals providing legal services rely on a passive approach where clients solicit their services.
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Broadly, legal aid ought to be made available to every needy citizen that cannot be able to afford professional legal services. However, this has not always been the case since these has largely been limited to criminal justice. Is legal aid relevant to all areas of law? For example, does intellectual property require professional legal services through legal aid? To a great extent, legal aid should not be confined to narrow thinking as there are indigent and poor musicians that may require services in the form of legal aid. Based on this hypothesis, legal aid ought to overlap just as the law does. Within the ambit of legal aid, stakeholders are NGOs, governmental organizations, law firms, lawyers, law schools, law teachers and law students.
Among law students in the country, legal aid operates under activities like debating and moot court competitions. However, these activities are strikingly different from legal aid since they have an award while legal aid lacks awards. This explains why very few students prioritize legal aid. However, research has shown that students benefit much from legal aid as they are exposed to the treacherous terrain of being a lawyer from an early stage. Through legal aid, students are able to participate in change within society.
Social welfare and fairness
Today, legal aid focuses on aspects of social welfare protection as well as protecting the right to a fair trial. The former is assured by tackling issues on social exclusion such debt and housing while the latter deals in protection of the rights of individuals accused of violating the law but cannot afford professional legal services. To a great extent, legal aid ought to extend to reforms in social welfare platform to realize justice for all. This can only be possible by ensuring that opportunity, decency and fairness is made available to all. Through such steps, the system tasked with legal aid will be effective and fair ensuring justice is available to all. Quality is the driving force behind reforms for a working system of legal aid. Fairness ensures that the most vulnerable in society access professional legal services of the right standard.
The delicate balancing act
Whenever professional legal services are well funded; focus shifts to the priorities of the persons involved. Therefore, the justice system becomes effective and opportunity is provided for all ensuring equality. Justice for all will however become reality when legal aid will:
- Ensure the right to fair trial is afforded indigent defendants a trials of a criminal nature.
- Provide funds for vulnerable and needy in form of legal advice to address their problems. Conversely, those capable of affording these services should do so.
- Provide means of alternative dispute resolution to those individuals that can solve issues without need for legal assistance as well as come up with different modes of litigation funding where possible
- Wherever appropriate and probable, provide alternatives to approaches that are court based
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Supporting an effective and fair justice system
Legal aid serves to protect the rights of the disadvantaged, vulnerable and innocent. In addition, it ensures that those incapable of paying for services are afforded fair trial. Funds allocated to legal aid ought to be managed in a responsible manner; the complexity, urgency and importance of the issues ensure that only vital and necessary demands are met without unnecessary additions. Moreover, legal aid can only benefit if the justice system is made swift to reduce costs. Finally, the legal aid system must be under strict regulations for proportionality and streamlined to the needs of our law. Legal aid must be provided with efficiency to meet the needs of the people. The market must be tailored to deliver independent representation and advice aimed at realizing innovation as well as removing unnecessary complexities. By and large, the focus of legal aid is to ensure that the public can access professional legal services that are affordable for sustainability within the justice system.
Legal aid is a social obligation for counsel, valuable experience for the teacher, learning experience for the student, government’s duty and a right of the recipient. For some, they view it as charity while others see it as vocational. On the other hand, some find it fulfilling while other find it gratifying. However, it is conclusive since it can accommodate both camps. In the provision of professional legal services, it plays a large and meaningful role more so in realizing justice and upholding the rule of law. To meet this end, all persons involved ought to play their role. Largely, this can only be accomplished if the justice, legal and/or state is involved in delivering the promise.
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