SASOD publicly launched its Community Paralegal Services Initiative (CPSI) in January 2018 with the purpose of improving access to justice for vulnerable populations in Guyana. Since its commencement, the Community Paralegal has undertaken 27 cases regarding issues of gender-based violence, intimate-partner violence, threats, blackmail, and discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression. A strong relationship has developed with CariBono attorneys and their legal clerks for referral services to ensure that all clients requiring legal support have access to such services. The Community Paralegal has referred 23 cases to CariBono attorneys for resolution. A total of 15 cases have been resolved to date, 11 through litigation with the aid of CariBono attorneys, and the remaining through mediation, explanation, or changes in organizational policies.
The Community Paralegal continues to supervise cases regardless of available financial support. Follow-up mechanisms along with referral systems assure clients that their case will not be neglected. A logbook tracks each case and the Community Paralegal ensures it is handled in a timely manner. The Community Paralegal manages an average of 5 new and existing cases per month. Thus far, there have been no reports of failed cases.
The Community Paralegal’s services are available to all vulnerable persons and are not limited to LGBTQ persons. Among the cases reported, 17 were from men who have sex with men, 6 identified as trans persons, 2 sex workers, and 7 cisgender, heterosexual persons.
The success of the CPSI has been attributed to collaborations and partnerships with significant individuals and groups including: the Minister of Education, Mayor of Georgetown, Parliamentary Opposition Chief Whip, Guyana Association of Women Lawyers (GAWL), Georgetown Law Human Rights Institute based in Washington, DC, Guyana Legal Aid Clinic, Anglican Bishop of Guyana, and the Guyana Responsible Parenthood Association’s Youth Advocacy Movement (YAM).
The main challenge facing the CPSI continues to be limited human resources to manage new and existing cases. Follow up and effectively monitoring cases is a vital element of the initiative, however, maintaining communication with both clients and lawyers places a heavy administrative burden on the Community Paralegal. Many clients require assistance writing and filing police reports or other formal reports. A surprising amount of time is needed for logistics such as arranging interviews, organizing clients and lawyers, preparing case notes, and other seemingly simple but time-consuming tasks. Much time is spent engaging the police, police complaint bodies, and the courts which are often slow and unresponsive. The support components of the CPSI are key but have a heavy human-resource cost. For support, a temporary Legal Aid Officer has been secured until March 2019, after which further support may be required.