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Access to justice : the role of community-based paralegals in community restorative justice in rural KwaZulu-Natal.

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Access to justice in rural KwaZulu-Natal is wholly inadequate, particularly where domestic violence is concerned. Despite the enactment of post-1994 criminal justice statutory frameworks, the majority of women living in rural areas experience barriers to justice. Yet the fight against injustice cannot be left solely to the police, lawyers and courts. Rather, there is a need to involve other stakeholders, such as ordinary people, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and traditional authorities. This research study investigates whether and how community-based paralegals (CBPs) facilitate access to justice. It explores the role of paralegals in community restorative justice through four rural community-based advice offices under the umbrella of the Centre for Community Justice and Development (CCJD), an NGO in Pietermaritzburg. The four community advice offices under study in rural KwaZulu-Natal are Bulwer, Ixopo, Madadeni and New Hanover. The study examines the interrelationship between restorative justice, community-based paralegals and domestic violence with specific reference to the Domestic Violence Act (No. 116 of 1998). Underlying the domestic violence lens adopted to explore the role of CBPs in community restorative justice are philosophical worldviews of pragmatism to determine what works under the circumstances and advocacyparticipation to give voice to the study participants. The study employs a socio-legal, qualitative research design supported by statistical case intake and outcome data. A meta-conceptual framework allowed a multiple-case study strategy that applies several units of analysis and draws upon multiple sources of evidence. The research findings reveal the connection between the engagement of paralegals by rural community members and the role of paralegals in handling domestic violence cases in an environment of legal pluralism. Furthermore, findings show that while paralegals straddle criminal, traditional and informal justice systems to address the legal needs of rural women, contrary to mainstream literature, domestic violence cases can be resolved through community restorative justice. Findings demonstrate that the Domestic Violence Act fails to meet the needs of victims of domestic violence who seek family sustainability. The community restorative justice practices of CBPs directed toward domestic violence fill a justice gap created by contradictions between rule of law orthodoxy and customary law. Based upon the role of CBPs in advancing access to justice through community restorative justice, the study concludes with process theory-building for forum shopping and communication pragmatism and suggests a private-based conceptual model for community-based paralegals addressing domestic violence cases through community restorative justice. Practical implications for law and policy and a way forward for community restorative justice in rural areas are also presented along with visions of future research.


Doctor of Administration in Management Studies. University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban 2014.


Theses - Public Administration.