What is ProBonoMatters?
ProBonoMatters is an open online platform designed to help ordinary people access the Justice System to secure and exercise their rights and freedoms
What is the Matter?
The post 1994 South Africa has been blessed with one of the most progressive constitutions in the world and yet the freedoms and rights it promises remain inaccessible to a significant majority of the country’s citizens.
Justice System is the Key
One of the key vehicles that can ensure equitable accessibility of the basic constitutional freedoms and rights is the justice system as defined in Section 34 of the Constitution. But then the justice system itself has been commodified, making it largely inaccessible to the economically marginalised masses.
Ensuring Human Dignity
ProBonoMatters is born of an ambition to ensure equitable access to the justice system which should then actualise a host of other rights and ensure human dignity.
The constitution speaks of access to basic services and rights like education, housing, water, fair labour practices’ etc. The constitution also speaks of basic freedoms like freedom of expression, movement, association etc. Many people are unable to access these basic rights and services due to economic marginalisation and pure prejudice.
Breathing Life to the Bill of Rights
Despite an undertaking in the Bill of Rights that “Everyone is equal before the law and has the right to equal protection and benefit of the law”, multitudes are unable to access the justice system to protect their rights and freedoms.
Ecosystem for Justice
ProBonoMatters comes as a creation of an ecosystem to serve, protect and actualise the constitution for the benefit of vulnerable groups. An ecosystem made of all who care from ordinary citizens to captains of industry, NGOs, civil servants and politicians. The interaction of all these parties is shaping up into a highly dynamic ecosystem which is yielding an Open Source Legal Service.
Open Source Legal Service
South Africa runs with a fairly developed private legal fraternity which is nevertheless expensive and inaccessible to the majority of its people.
A survey of the mainstream private legal fraternity will reveal some willingness by the members of this industry to extend their service to citizens who do not have the financial means to acquire their services. This willingness is represented in Pro Bono activity, legal work undertaken without charge by law firms.
Organisations like the Law Society of South Africa and the South African Society for Labour Law (SASLAW) have Pro Bono chapters designed to offer limited services to economically marginalised people. These initiatives come on top of public and non-profit initiatives like the Legal Aid Board, Legal Resource Centre and law faculties from a number of universities.
While this Pro Bono work is appreciable it does not go far enough towards universal coverage. Offcourse universal coverage in the strictest sense of the concept is technically a utopian ideal. But in the era of Open Source the possibilities have become endless.
ProBonoMatters is positioned as an Open Source Legal Service Provider which feeds from a virtual network of legal minds. Traditional Pro Bono work happens behind closed doors in an inefficient one person at a time approach, almost oblivious of the principle of legal precedence. The precedence is almost inaccessible to ordinary people as it is hidden behind legal jargon that can only be understood by lawyers. As such ordinary people find themselves having to reinvent the wheel in enforcing their rights and freedoms when on many occasions their matters could be addressed through mere explanation of a precedent to the aggrieved and/or the offender.
How ProBonoMatters Works?
ProBonoMatters seeks to be a platform where ordinary people can register their matters to be studied by an open network of legal minds mainly legal professionals.
Resolution in the Open
On scrutinising the matter members of the ProBonoMatters network will propose resolution in the open. There are two ways to the proposition of the resolution, depending on the complication of the matter. Network members can propose actual resolution of the matter there and then.
Pro Bono Consultation
Some matters may demand escalation into private Pro Bono consultation as seen fit by a legal practitioner. In such a case a legal practitioner will invite the reporter of the matter offline to attend to the matter. At the conclusion of the matter both parties will be expected to report back onto the ProBonoMatters open pages for the benefit of the ecosystem thus benefiting other people who may encounter a similar matter.