This paper engages with current debates on rule of law approaches to justice provision in fragile and conflict-affected situations. The author presents the results of two months of research in Timor Leste on the role of paralegals (PLs) and legal aid lawyers (LALs). By examining their handling of three case types - land disputes, paternity claims and domestic violence - the author argues that these actors use their local knowledge and training to negotiate Timor-Leste’s emerging justice system. In doing so, they help marginalised community members to realise their rights, challenge local power imbalances and mitigate obstacles to access to justice. Indeed, since they draw upon knowledge of both local norms and the state, PLs and LALs are uniquely placed to understand the needs of their clients. However, there remain many areas in which they require further training, assistance and support in order to improve and institutionalise their role. Such moves may help the state to increase its presence at the sub-district level, deliver on its constitutional commitments and embed its institutions within popular understandings of authority and justice, goals that are vital to ongoing state-building efforts.
Kirk, T. Legal Aid Lawyers and Paralegals: Promoting Access to Justice and Negotiating Hybridity in Timor Leste. Justice and Security Research Programme, London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), London, UK (2014) 52 pp. [JSRP Paper 14]