A paralegal is a person trained in legal matters who in general delivers services provided under the regulation of a lawyer to assist clients in procedural aspects of law outside the court. An unlicensed paralegal is supervised by a lawyer and cannot engage in the practice of law, but can provide clients with important guidance in navigating legal matters. Usually, paralegals have taken a prescribed series of courses in law and legal processes. Paralegals often handle much of the paper work in probates of estates, divorce actions, bankruptcies, investigations, analyzing depositions, preparing and answering interrogatories, procedural motions, and other specialized jobs. Paralegal services are commonly used in the United States of America (USA) where paralegals originated as assistants to lawyers at a time when only lawyers offered legal services. In the Nepali context, paralegals provide invaluable support to clients unfamiliar with the legal system and seeking legal redress.
In Nepal there is no legal or professional recognition as a paralegal but a systemic lack of access to judicial remedies compounded with the constraint created by little public knowledge regarding legal processes and substantive rights spurred various organizations to start paralegal services under different names but with the similar function and objective of assisting Nepalis in the legal process.
Pourakhi is one of the pioneering institutions that established paralegal services in 2009. Even before this, Pourakhi dealt with the legal apects of various cases, but it was not systematic. In keeping with Pourakhi’s objectives paralegal service is limited to migrant workers and their families. Paralegal services are also available to potential migrant workers who are involved in fraudulent contracts, whose migration failed, migrants who died or experience any other form of exploitation the in migration cycle.
Pourakhi’s paralegal department works in accordance with the national laws related to foreign employment. They assist migrant workers with “state party cases,” legal cases in which there is harm intended to the victim, before the case proceeds to the foreign employment tribunal where it is tried.
Issue related to compensation and rescue are common and should be done by the migrant worker on their own. Even the process of taking the cases to the tribunal has to be done by the worker themselves. Unfortunately, they are generally unaware of this. In this regard, paralegal services provide procedural knowledge for migrant worker who are in search of justice.
Case Handling Process:
When any case comes to the paralegal it is approached in the following manner:
In an application from the applicant or proxy (victim or his family, relatives or other) details of the case are noted. o In the application the service asked from the paralegal is clearly stated.
The facts of the case are investigated by the department. o If the application and facts of the case match, then the process is started.
Based on the nature of the case (on case to case basis) a process and approach is devised. o The cases are forwarded to the appropriate government institutions, after completion of required procedures.
If appropriate, the Foreign Employment Promotion Board (FEPB) in the department of foreign employment is contacted. This is the major government body involved in the compensation process.
When necessary, Nepal’s embassy at state of destination is contacted through the foreign ministry counselor department. Such contact is vital institution for the rescue process.
Depending on the nature of cases different institutions constituting a wide network of agencies such as trade unions, recruiting agencies, national and international organizations, UN bodies, international and national networks working in the migrant sector, national women’s commission, donor agencies may be involved to directly or indirectly for support in processing the case.
CASES: Pourakhi’s paralegals handle many types of cases including:
Rescue – Migrant needs support leaving the country immediately due to exploitative and dangerous work situation.
Release of confiscated passport and documents – Migrant needs support facilitating the release of illegally confiscated and/or kept passport and supporting documents.
Repatriation of dead body – Migrant’s family needs support processing request to have body of their family member returned to Nepal
Paralegal counseling – Migrant
Compensation – Migrant needs support petitioning for compensation (for injury, illegal withholding of wages, non-payment etc…) through state mechanisms .
Lobbying for Special Victims – In the case of grave injury where migrants need support lobbying for additional compensation.
Procedural filing assistance – Migrants need assistance with legal procedures.
CHALLENGES: Paralegals identify several challenges for migrant workers including:
Both migrant workers and agents are unaware of safe migration procedures.
Migrant workers are unaware of their rights and duties .
Misrepresentation by recruiting agency and agents .
The laws which currently in implementation are limited and do not address the challenges associated with the rapid changes in foreign employment.
Corruption, impunity and lack of implementation of laws in general in foreign employment procedures.
Undocumented status of many migrant workers impacts the process of access to legal and remunerative justice .
Correct information dissemination for potential migrant workers is lacking .
Fake agreements or dual-contracts leave migrant workers in vulnerable situations .
Migrant workers are not provided vouchers for their payment to recruiting agencies .
Migrant workers often believe that official migration channels are less expeditious than informal foreign employment agreements and avoid formal migration practices .
Relatives and family members are often recruiting agents which leads to low rates of prosecution in the case of fraud and exploitation .
Improve access to migration and foreign employment information .
Migrant workers should be aware of their rights.