Policy Paper: Recognition & Regulation of the CAO Sector

1. This draft Policy Paper encapsulates the government’s commitment to regulate the Community Advice Office (CAO) sector. This Paper will be presented at the national consultative workshop for the CAO sector and other stakeholders and will be followed by a White Paper on the regulation of CAOs. The Paper deals with three issues:

1.1 Regulation of the CAO sector;

1.2 Regulation of community-based paralegals;

1.3 Long-term financial sustainability of the CAO sector.

2. The regulation of paralegals has been on the government’s agenda since the late 1990s, but all previous initiatives to comprehensively deal with paralegals (particularly community-based paralegals working in CAOs) as part of the process to regulate the legal sector were unsuccessful.

3. In 2018 the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development (DoJ&CD) asked the Foundation for Human Rights (FHR), the department’s implementing partner for the European Union (EU)-funded Socio-Economic Justice for All (SEJA) Programme, to reinvigorate the regulation process. This led to the development of a Discussion Document on the future of the CAO sector in South Africa.¹ This Discussion Document was the subject of broad national and provincial consultations between April and June 2019. Inputs and recommendations from these consultations have been collated and incorporated in this document.

4. The regulation of the CAO sector and community-based paralegals, as well as the financial sustainability of CAOs, should be understood within the following context, which demonstrates that CAOs fill a gap in improving access to justice in South Africa:

4.1 Poverty, unemployment and inequality are a direct legacy of apartheid and remain an existential threat to South Africa’s democracy. As demonstrated by the 2018 FHR SEJA Baseline Survey on Constitutional Awareness, higher levels of poverty are associated with lower levels of awareness of the Constitution and its Bill of Rights.

4.2 It is evident that access to constitutional rights is not enjoyed equally by all the people of South Africa. More than 29 000 attorneys and advocates serve a population of over 57 million, charge fees exceeding the financial means of most South Africans and operate predominantly in urban areas. This limits significantly access to justice for vulnerable and marginalised groups, particularly in remote, rural and peri-urban areas.

4.3 There is a substantial body of research which demonstrates that CAOs, including community-based paralegals, fill the “access to justice gap” by delivering a widerange of cost-effective services aimed at solving legal, social and human rights issues. In doing so, CAOs provide invaluable assistance to the government in fulfilling its constitutional obligation to ensure access to justice.

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