The first three CLEAR projects are providing legal education aid and research in Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda but there is a huge need for similar work across the developing world. Here are but a few stories giving a snapshot of the work of CLEAR to date.
Human Rights – Public Interest Litigation
CLEAR encounters many out-dated and unjust laws in its daily caseload. CLEAR has challenged some of these unjust laws through constitutional references and judicial reviews.
For example, in Kenya public interest litigation has secured ID cards for the homeless. And in Mombasa, a case was brought against a police practice of arresting and charging the homeless for causing ‘public indecency’ by sleeping outside.
Former street children at an orphanage in Mombasa were unable to obtain work since the government refused to issue them with ID Cards due to their lack of a birth certificate. CLEAR lawyers challenged the Government through a judicial review and faced with a high profile case the Government agreed to change its administrative practice and issue orphans and homeless people with ID cards.
Widespread access to prisons by lawyers like those at CLEAR is a relatively new phenomenon in East Africa. Disturbing discoveries have been made of people awaiting trial for many years – one man in Nakuru, Kenya made the national news having been on remand awaiting trial for 22 years!
In 1996 the Kenya Human Rights Commission called prison conditions in Kenya “a death sentence”. While reforms are mooted, little of significance has changed since this quote. In most of Africa the infrastructure of the prison systems has remained unchanged since independence. In some countries it has regressed. Arguably, prison conditions are worse than those of Victorian Britain before the reforms driven by 19th century English philanthropists and are heightened by massive overcrowding.
In countries where the majority of people live below the poverty line and with no legal aid and widespread corruption, many innocent men, women and children find themselves incarcerated. The criminal justice systems are so inefficient that those accused (sometimes falsely) can wait for years before trial.
CLEAR lawyers teach prisoners how to get their cases heard or dismissed, and to the most vulnerable or to those suffering injustice CLEAR provides pro bono representation. Research suggests in the prisons in which CLEAR has been delivering its legal education seminars on a regular basis for more than 12 months, police are being forced to produce evidence earlier and remand times have reduced from between 3 and 5 years to 18 months.
Importantly, students from local law schools are closely involved in casework and the legal education seminars now allowed in prisons by the State governments in the countries in which CLEAR works.
Legal Aid Centres
Legal education in churches and slums is a first step but to the widow who has had her land seized by her deceased husband’s brother, knowledge of a right means little. Access to a lawyer and other support networks are required if the law is to be of any use to those for whose protection it was made. CLEAR specialises in criminal law, family law and public law. Its client group includes:
- Children in need of maintenance from their father
- Wives seeking protection from domestic violence
- Street children in need of ID cards or protection from an abusive police force
- Ordinary citizens seeking redress against corrupt police officers or other officials, many of whom languish in prison awaiting trial for non-existent offences by way of punishment.
A small staff in each office provide advice and support for litigants in person as well as referring the most compelling cases to the in-house advocate and pro bono lawyers within the local Fellowship. It is not enough. It is never enough, but to those assisted, those who find justice, it is life-saving, transforming work.
Judicial Independence and Corruption
On the joint legal mission trip with the UK Lawyers Christian Fellowship to Kenya and Rwanda in 2011 the team held a meeting with local lawyers in which they were charged with discussing the requirements of integrity in legal practice. A Supreme Court judge reflected on a common saying in his country: ‘why pay a lawyer’s retainer when you can buy a judge?’ He was lamenting the extent of corruption at the bench, and the two tier system of justice, which delivered a short stay for rich offenders, and a long indeterminate pre-trial period for those unable to afford the bribe.
In a visit to a local prison to conduct legal education on rights under the local penal code for around 600 prisoners held on remand, one detainee alleged that the judge presiding over his case was also a complainant in the same case. Another alleged that he had been held for three years and in that time had only gone before a judge on one occasion, his initial bail application. Another alleged he had been detained for seven years and was not aware of the identity of his accuser. CLEAR returned to take the further details of these individuals in order to make an assessment of how to progress their claims.
The Challenge of Providing Access to Representation In Rwanda
The National Public Prosecution Service (NPPA) in Rwanda faces a substantial case backlog problem – cases from the police which are awaiting a decision by the prosecutor but are now over one-year old. At the beginning of 2010 the backlog was 35,000 cases and it is growing each year. Whilst the prosecution service prioritises cases where the accused is in custody and serious cases, the delay in marking the remaining cases can be substantial (over five years is not unusual in the biggest offices).
Access to State sponsored legal aid is virtually non-existent in Rwanda. Just how pointed the need is was brought home to the 2011 mission team through the actions of a Rwandan judge. The team travelled two hours into the Rwandan countryside to visit a court house in rural Rwanda. They sat on the make shift wooden benches at the back of the courtroom and witnessed defendant after defendant stand alongside the prosecutor without representation.
Afterwards the team were invited into the chambers of the President of the Court. She was most interested to hear of the work of CLEAR in Rwanda, remarking that there is little to no legal assistance available to the many accused who front her court. So present in the mind of this judge was the need for a pro bono network to provide representation for those in her court that two days later she cleared her calendar and travelled the two hours to the capital Kigali to attend the inaugural conference of the Lawyers of Hope. She was greatly encouraged by the work of Lawyers of Hope. Lawyers of Hope are now offering a program to assist minors held in the local adult prison. In his address to the conference the Rwandan Minister for Justice’s address commended the network of lawyers providing pro bono services, reminding the attendees that ‘for a Christian lawyer, the burden of the duty of the lawyer becomes the fulfillment of their belief’.
Tatu has two sons and when her husband left her she was without the means to feed them or send them to school. The CLEAR Mombasa office obtained an attachment of earnings order for maintenance, which the local authority duly collected from her husband – only to keep them in the treasury! It took CLEAR lawyers 8 months and an arrest warrant against the Town Clerk before the funds were released to a desperate family.
Jacqueline had spent three years awaiting trial for infanticide when a CLEAR lawyer drove 10 hours to a remote rural area north of Nairobi to interview her at the request of a local pastor who was caring for her 6 year old daughter. With his representation she was acquitted following a submission of no case to answer by the CLEAR advocate.
Do these stories move you? Challenge you? Frustrate you? Do you want to:
- Take God’s truth to the corners of the world
- Respond to God’s heart for justice and mercy
- Show forth God’s character of love and justice.
There are several ways you may respond through getting involved with CLEAR. … So Make a Difference and Be Involved.