The legal aid clinic of Stellenbosch University’s Faculty of Law opened a new wing at its offices in Banhoek Road in August 2011.
The new wing with four new offices and a seminar room now makes it possible for the legal aid clinic to accommodate double its intake of students who want to gain experience in a law practice. The clinic now also boasts a new centre with 14 computers, where student consultants can write correspondences on behalf of clients, as well as prepare documentation for the court.
The clinic forms part of the university’s Hope Project, a campus-wide initiative, which strives to respond to the challenges in communities and ensure development.
Stellenbosch University legal aid clinic director Kruger van der Walt says the building could only accommodate 32 students previously, but from next year 64 students will be able to gain practical experience at the clinic.
“We are now also able to present law seminars and workshops for police and municipal managers and we have space for more staff members,” he adds.
The legal aid clinic’s work comprises mostly cases of evictions from farms, labour disputes, family violence, divorce cases, debt relief and vehicle accidents. It functions as a law practice and consults with about 4 000 clients yearly.
Free law services, including legal advice and court representation, are provided to people who cannot afford these services, specifically people from previously disadvantaged communities. In the process, final-year law students and candidate attorneys also receive crucial training.
The clinic focuses on Stellenbosch and surrounding areas, but also provides services for people in Ashton, Bonnie-vale, Ceres, Franschhoek, Gouda, Grabouw, Klapmuts, McGregor, Montagu, Paarl, Robertson, Somerset West, Strand, Wellington, Wolseley and Worcester, in the Western Cape.
“A university is a place of ideas, of abstractions, so it is always good to see that we can establish something concrete, and what is more concrete than a new building? The legal aid clinic provides relevant and accessible services for the community. Service delivery to the community has always been important to the university, and we formalised that with the launch of the Hope Project in 2010,” says Stellenbosch University rector Professor Russel Botman.
He believes that large sections of the population are still excluded from full parti- cipation in the economy and the rest of society, despite the fact that South Africa’s Constitution seeks to correct the legacy of colonialism and apartheid.
“The work of the legal aid clinic can be viewed as a solution to this problem. People who require the protection of the Constitution can be assisted [in their quest] to stand up for their rights. And this means a lot to the people in our community,” he concludes.