Last night I went to interview a woman who was refused legal aid assistance becauwe she earns above the salary cap. Her dilemma is that she is suspended without pay so paying for a private lawyer is going to be very difficult for her.
These past two weeks have highlighted to me the importance of staying out of trouble with the law and always having a contigency plan should something unfortunate happen. I also realised that the law, although designed to help, has some shortfallings.
I had problems with using the flipcam to record her bc she decided she no longer wanted to appear on camera. I tried convincing her but in the end it was a very short interview on camera.
Next up is working on my text piece. This weekend will be spent writing up a storm.
Sitting through legal consultations was how my day was spent today. After four hours in a tiny booth, listening to sad story after sad story I am exhausted physically and emotionally
I sat through people filling out the means test form and realised the meaning of the term indigent.
People who are really needy and have nowhere else to turn.
I also saw the flipside of the coin. People who can afford private lawyers for civil matters walking in and pretending they can’t. I was embarrassed for them when they were caught out.
I also learnt that when people are desperate for help they really don’t care who else is in the room. I seemed to be the only one who felt awkward in the situation.
I found it very challenging to take photos in that small space. I tried every angle short of standing on the para-legal’s desk.
Tomorrow I have an interview with a guy who was denied legal aid and he has agreed to speak on camera.
All seems to be going well except that I’m finding it difficult to find figures that show how much it takes to defend oneself through a private lawyer if you’re charged with a petty or capital crime.
Today was a difficult in terms of getting to shadow my para-legal. I have an appointment with Ms Moahloli at 10 am tommorrow and will hopefully shadow a para-legal then. I would like see them at work with people who are there to get help and see the human side to the piece of paper called the Means Test.
I’m working on my article and looking for information regarding the cost of legal defence today. I would like to find out what it takes to defend yourself for a petty crime as opposed to a capital crime such as murder. If a person does not qualify for Legal Aid, how much should they get ready to part with if they are to defend themselves privately.
I also have a lead on a guy who was denied Legal Aid. He is a proffessional starting out in his carreer so he earns more than the Legal Aid cap but does not have enough to defend himself through a private lawyer. He has agreed to meet with me on Thursday afternoon after he leaves work.
My sources and multimedia look like they will be in a good place by Friday.
Today I got a reality check when I went to Protea court in Soweto. First of all, I grew up right opposite the police station and was hurt when I saw that my childhood home is now a doctor’s surgery. Secondly, speaking to people who are in the justice system Is very dIfferent from researching in the comfort of the lab or meeting people who offer you tea in their comfortable offices.
The people I spoke to were a real life example of what it means to be a have -not . I asked them what they experienced when they took the Legal Aid means test and I was met with blank stares. Nobody took the time to explain to them what they were signing.
I understand that being unemployed qualifies one for legal aid without tasking the means test but atheist explain this to the clients.
I laughed when I heard someone applying for bail because he stole cheese, I had tears in my eyes when I saw the room for child witnesses. Through it all I was reminded this was the real deal. People’s futures and those of their families hung in the balance.
My next step is going back to court on Monday and finding more people stories and also setting up an appointment with Ms Mohlaoli at the Braamfontein justice center to help me with shadowing s para-legal who deals with the means test.
Today was a good day in terms of collecting information. I went to Pretoria for an interview with Wilna Lambley, head executive of Legal Aid Gauteng. She was very helpful in answering my questions and allowed me access to the Braamfontein Justice centre in order me to shadow a para-legal who deals with the means test.
I also intend to go to the Fox Street Magistrate court when I’m finished so I can speak to speak to people and try and see if I can find any touters. Poeple who can’t afford private lawyers and dont qualify for Legal Aid asistance according to the means test.
Touters approach people who look as if they don’t have any legal help and direct them to the lawyers they work for. This might seem helpful to people who are in the system and are struggling to understand what’s happening around them but the trouble is it is illegal.
I want to speak to touters, people who are looking for help but don’t qualify for legal aid tomorrow. I will spend the day walking around magistrate court looking for “people” stories.
Today I had a meeting with Robyn Leslie to help me with the problems I was having yesterday. I wasn’t sure how I was going to focus my topic and how the means test would fit into it.
Robyn helped me figure out what I’m going to say to Wilma, who I’m meeting tomorrow morning. She also helped me establish in my mind what my story is. I’ve decided that I will focus on the means test as a way to set up the marginalised people that fall outside of it.
When a person approaches Legal Aid and asks for help, they take the means test to see if they are eligible for the help. if they earn above R5, 500 they are not eligible. What happens when a person earns R500 more? They still don’t earn enough money to get a private lawyer. I intend to find out what happens to these marginal people.
The journalism honours class is now in the full swing of things with our end-of-year in depth project. At the moment I’m collecting information on my chosen topic. The group I have been assigned to has been given the topic: Economic Justice. We are allowed to interpret the topic in a wide manner. I’ve decided to go with what is called a means test. this means test determines who Legal Aid can and can’t help. Legal Aid is a government organisation that helps people who cant afford private legal services by assisting them with legal services free of charge.
The means test looks at how much an individual or a household earns and from that judges whether they will help represent that individual in court or not. This is the a big step in what I see as the economic part of justice. So far I have managed to get hold of a source at the Legal Aid head offices in Pretoria and we have made an appointment to meet. I would like her to explain the process to me and refer me to someone who handles the means test when potential Legal Aid clients approach the organisation.
I’ve had problems defining what my angle is exactly. Initially my topic involved asking what the means test is, how one is considered indingent after taking the means test and how far legal aid will get you in terms of representation. Ideas have been given to me for my topic by my mentors and classmates and a lot of them are really interesting. The problem is which ones do I go with without risking my topic becoming too wide.