Legal Aid South Africa

Establishment and aims of Legal Aid South Africa
(a) Legal Aid South Africa is an independent statutory body established by the Legal Aid South Africa Act 39, 2014, as amended.
(b) The aims of Legal Aid SA are to:

  • Give legal aid or to make legal aid available to indigent persons within its financial means.
  • Provide legal representation at State expense, as set out in the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996 (the Constitution) and relevant legislation giving content to the right to legal representation at State expense.
  • Provide education and information concerning legal rights and obligations.

Legal Aid South Africa’s role is to provide legal aid to those who cannot afford their own legal representation. This includes poor people and vulnerable groups such as women, children and the rural poor.

It does this in an independent and unbiased manner with the intention of enhancing justice and public confidence in the law and administration of justice.

In order to fulfill its mandate and realise its mission, Legal Aid South Africa uses four service delivery channels:

  • Legal Aid SA Local Offices
  • Cooperation agreements
  • Special litigation
  • Other cost effective and efficient ways of accessing justice.

Legal Aid SA Local Offices
Access to justice is provided through Legal Aid SA Local Offices. A Legal Aid SA Local Office works like a law firm, where legal aid applicants can go for legal assistance. Each Legal Aid SA Local Office has a Head of Office, supervisory and principal legal practitioners, legal practitioners, candidate attorneys and paralegals. A Legal Aid SA Local Office offers legal assistance in defined criminal and civil matters. Services offered by Legal Aid SA Local Offices include advice, referrals and litigation.

Cooperation agreements
Legal Aid South Africa has cooperation agreements with various universities that have law clinics. Through the law clinics, the universities, in conjunction with Legal Aid South Africa, provide legal assistance to their communities. Legal Aid South Africa currently has cooperation agreements with Potchefstroom University for Christian Higher Education, University of the Witwatersrand, Rhodes University, University of Limpopo, University of Cape Town, University of the Western Cape, University of Fort Hare, University of Venda, University of Pretoria, North West University, Walter Sisulu University, University of South Africa, University of Johannesburg, University of the Free State, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Stellenbosch University, University of Zululand and Nelson Mandela University.

Special litigation
There are some special cases that, if taken to court and won, would have a major impact on South African law. These types of cases often involve groups of people taking legal action together and therefore require special teams of legal representatives to assist them. The legal representatives may be from the Legal Aid SA Local Offices or they may be private attorneys.

Legal Aid South Africa considers such cases strictly on a case-by-case basis and once certain criteria are met, then Legal Aid South Africa makes funding available from a special fund. The fund, which creates the capacity for the bringing of impact litigation, is particularly important against the backdrop of the Constitution, which, for the first time, introduced class actions in to South Africans with respect to constitutional violations of the Bill of Rights.

Other cost effective and efficient ways of accessing justice
Over and above the other three methods, Legal Aid South Africa continues to explore other effective and efficient access to justice models. This is necessary as service delivery models of legal aid must be adapted and replaced over time in order to reflect changing contexts.

An independent body, Legal Aid South Africa was established by the Legal Aid Act of 1969. During the first 20 years of its existence, Legal Aid South Africa provided legal aid by means of Judicare. In other words, Legal Aid South Africa employed the services of lawyers in private practice to represent those needing legal aid. However, during the 1990s, starting with the Office of the Public Defender, Legal Aid South Africa became involved in a number of pilot projects in which legal aid was provided by salaried legal practitioners employed by either Legal Aid South Africa or one of its cooperation partners.

In the late 1990s, Legal Aid South Africa decided to move towards a system of salaried legal practitioners as the primary means by which legal aid would in future be provided. Legal Aid South Africa has since established 64 Legal Aid SA Local Offices and 64 Legal Aid SA Satellite Offices, which provide legal aid throughout the country.

In 2014 the new act came into force, called the Legal Aid South Africa Act No. 39 of 2014.

Legal Aid SA Local Offices are usually near courts, with each office serving between 10 and 20 courts. Through its Legal Aid SA Local Offices, Legal Aid South Africa provides legal aid to hundreds of thousands of people throughout the country each year.