Bringing justice to the streets of Durban
Through an initiative of the Denis Hurley Centre, 4th year UKZN law students are spending time on the streets of Durban, gaining an understanding of the difficulties homeless people face in accessing justice. From April to June, 20 students spent two days a week on this project. Another 20 started in August and will continue until the end of October.
Between breakfast and lunch, the students engage with the homeless people in Paddy Kearney Way. They also help prepare and serve the meals, as this is an important way for them to bond with the people. They work in pairs, with at least one Zulu-speaker in each pair to facilitate communication.
Most of the time, these law students cannot solve problems. And that’s one of the hardest lessons for them to learn. But, they can give advice on legal matters and also teach people about their rights. In some cases, they take a witness statement of an incident, or help a homeless person to learn what makes for a good witness statement in the future.
The students feel that they have learnt some big lessons. “I’m now convinced that I should practice human rights law,” said one. Another commented, “I won’t be judging people on their outward appearance,” and, “I will take more pro bono cases in my practice, because not everybody can afford legal services.”
Some of these lawyers may work in the human rights field in the future. But whatever area of the law they take up, we hope that seeds of empathy and compassion have been sown.
Dr Janine Hicks, the lecturer in charge of the programme said, “I deeply appreciate the opportunity this partnership creates for our final year students to connect … connect with this community of ‘other’ citizens, connect with social justice issues, and for many, connect with their passion for why they chose to study Law in the first place.
“I love seeing how this experience unlocks their insight into systemic failures in access to rights and justice, and how the Law can be used to leverage transformation for those neglected by the state.”
In the pipeline is the launch of a regular Street Law clinic at the Denis Hurley Centre, in conjunction with the UKZN Law Clinic. This year’s students, as well as some from previous years will work at the clinic. They will be thoroughly briefed about which issues they can and cannot take on, and how they can connect street living people to free professional legal services.
[With acknowledgement to the Denis Hurley Centre, September Update, published 30/9/2022]