The Department of Justice and Constitutional Development in partnership with the South African Women Lawyers Association and Legal AID South Africa hosted the Access to Justice Week which covered the period from 17-21 August 2015 in all nine provinces.
During that week, identified courts in North West Province together with private attorneys offered free legal advice to needy members of the community. The North West Regional Office went to all its six cluster courts to reach community members that are destitute, marginalised and vulnerable.
In 2007, Access to Justice Week was launched responding to calls from members of society in need of legal service assistance. This has now turned into an annual event. During that week, legally qualified officials from the department together with lawyers in private practice provided free legal advice to the public or referred them to relevant institutions for further intervention and assistance. “This year, the plan was to expand reach to communities living in rural areas.
The intention of the activities is to provide access to justice for all through decreasing the challenges brought by the cost of litigation, undue delays and excessive formalities within the legal process,” said Joseph Makutle, the regional head.
The department and partners conducted a variety of activities to ensure that majority of people across the North West Region receive free legal advice and assistance. There were information desks in different courts, radio talk shows, blitz campaigns at public places and outreach campaigns.
The SA Human Rights Commission states that to address the structural inequalities, it is imperative that justice be made more accessible, especially to the poor as it is a fundamental and non-negotiable right. The commission recognises that the right of access to justice unlocks all other rights in the Constitution. The right to access justice has the potential to foster an egalitarian and transformed society where everyone’s fundamental human dignity is respected and protected.
The focus of advice given to the public related specifically to matters affecting women and children. Attorneys and candidate attorneys were also requested to volunteer their services and expertise any time during access to justice week, for any amount of time ranging from a few hours, to a whole day, as requested by the Law Society of South Africa. Participants were required to register their names at the nearest courts to facilitate planning .
Topics covered ranged from marriage, divorce, domestic partnerships, succession and administration of estates, domestic violence, child abuse/violence against children, gender-based violence, child custody and access, guardianship, fostering and maintenance.