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The evolution of legal aid

2023-03-20  Staff Reporter

The evolution of legal aid

There will always be citizens unable to afford private legal services whenever they need legal assistance, which will compell them for government funded legal aid. The provision for legal aid is essential for the safe walk of democracies on the tracks of the rule of law and equal protection of laws. 

The mandate of the Directorate of Legal Aid is to provide for the granting of legal aid in civil and criminal matters to persons whose means are inadequate to enable them to engage legal practitioners to assist and represent them at the expense of government. 

The directorate derives its mandate from Article 12 and
Article 95 (h) of the Namibian Constitution as well as the Legal Aid Act 29 of 1990 as amended, together with the regulations made thereunder. The directorate started with 10 staff at independence and has grown to 70 staff members, which dominantly comprises legal
officers (lawyers) and administrative staff. 

Legal aid lawyers are employed by government and stationed at 26 magistrate’s courts countrywide. To apply for legal aid, the indigent person must fill in a prescribed form (Form 1 in the Legal Aid Regulations of 2019) and hand in to the Directorate of Legal Aid or at any magistrate’s court for consideration. 

On average, the directorate receives 10 000 applications for legal assistance and have been able to assist on average 7 500 of these applicants, which are mainly for criminal matters.  

The directorate recently created a civil unit. The unit creation has enabled the directorate to assign in-house lawyers to attend to civil matters. This practice was not possible due to shortage of in-house lawyers to handle civil matters. 

Civil matters used to be instructed to private legal practitioners, which was a costly and untenable practice. The directorate took a strategic decision to bring on-board in-house lawyers to handle civil matters, which will result in cost reduction on legal fees.

 The unit is now fully functional; it deals with divorce, labour and all other civil matters.

 The lawyers serve the country from the unit’s offices in Windhoek and Oshakati. Future plans for further decentralisation are underway. 

The directorate also recently implemented a case management system (CMS) to transform its business processes for handling legal aid applications from a manual system to a digital platform. 

A business process re-engineering was needed to bring about a streamlined process at the directorate due to an inefficient process for how the directorate handled applications for legal aid. 

The manual system was coupled with various hiccups that affected the smooth operations of the directorate. 

As a result, the management decided to implement a CMS to automate the business process of handling all legal aid application forms at the directorate.

With the introduction of the new CMS, it takes a matter of seconds to receive acknowledgement of application through an SMS notification from 247. 

This is followed by a letter through mail to the same effect in case the SMS notification does not go through or the applicant does not possess or have access to a cell phone. A decision is made on the system, provided that all the requisite information is given to
the director of Legal Aid. 

An SMS communicating the decision is again sent to the cell phone number provided in the application form. If the application is approved, the indigent person may be asked to pay an amount to contribute towards legal aid. Such payment must be paid to the nearest magistrate’s office and a receipt must be sent to the Directorate of Legal Aid.

An application form and a checklist can be obtained from any magistrate’s court in the country, most police stations, correctional facilities as well as at the Directorate of Legal Aid that is housed at Kisting House, No. 10565 at the Corner of Mungunda and Richard Kamuhuka streets in Katutura, Windhoek. 

The application form is also available on the Ministry of Justice’s website:

2023-03-20  Staff Reporter

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