By Munyaradzi Musiiwa
Midliands State University (MSU) has introduced a Diploma in Paralegal Studies as part of a programme to improve access to justice.Speaking at the launch of the programme at MSU main campus in Gweru yesterday, Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Ziyambi Ziyambi said his ministry was optimistic that the programme will improve access to justice for citizens particularly women, children, the poor and other marginalised groups.
He said paralegals are there to complement legal practitioners.
The Minister said the concept was first developed by law firms for paralegals to provide research, investigation and assistance.
He said the curriculum for the diploma was tailor made to meet the needs of stakeholders in the justice delivery system.
“It is our hope as a ministry that the diploma programme will produce a cadre that will augment access to justice for our citizens, particularly women, children, persons with disabilities, the poor and other vulnerable and marginalised groups,” said Cde Ziyambi.
In Zimbabwe, he said, the concept of a paralegal was first developed by law firms who referred to them as Legal Document Assistants, Personnel Assistant or Legal Secretaries.“Initially, they were referred to as Legal Document Assistants, Personal Assistants or Legal Secretaries. They would work under the supervision and control of legal practitioners.
“ Paralegals are thus professionals trained in the delivery of various legal services but are not legal practitioners. This distinction between legal practitioners and paralegals must however be underlined. The two do not compete with each other, they complement each other,” said Cde Ziyambi.
He said the diploma programme is targeting candidates who are already employed in various organisations offering legal aid such as the Legal Resource Foundation, Musasa Project and the Zimbabwe Women Lawyers Association.
Cde Ziyambi said the scope of employment for paralegals has extended as their skills are required in parastatals, quasi state institutions and the police.
MSU acting Vice Chancellor, Professor Victor Muzvidziwa said the institution had already started enrolling students for the diploma.
“Having satisfied the university requirements to offer the diploma programme in partnership with the Transparency, Responsiveness, Accountability and Citizen Engagement (TRACE), our faculty of law enrolled the first intake of 28 student students on July 24, 2017,” he said.
The TRACE programme is a multi-donor programme sponsored by the United Kingdom, Denmark, Australia, Netherlands and Ireland aimed at improving access to media and information, advocacy for electoral reform and human rights among others. The Chronicle