Pro bono reflections: Working with the African Prison's Project - The value of being on the ground

3 September 2016

By Lucy Stoy, Senior Associate, Clifford Chance

Redemption. Dignity. Rule of law. Words which now have far more meaning for me following the opportunity to spend a few days with the African Prisons Project (APP) in Nairobi earlier this year. If you are not yet familiar with its work, APP is a small charity with a big heart. It aims to restore dignity and hope to prisoners in Kenya, Uganda and across Africa by focusing on education, access to justice and community reintegration. Like many prison systems across the world, Kenyan prisons are significantly over capacity with an estimated 40 percent of prisoners currently on remand. 

Among its many programmes, APP is currently supporting almost 50 students (both prisoners and prison staff) in studying law through the University of London's international distance learning courses. In addition to studying for their own future, these students also provide basic legal support to their peers within prisons.

Clifford Chance has had the privilege of supporting this programme for a number of years and is now partnering with APP and the Kenyan School of Law on the next stage: formalising the drop-in legal clinics run by the students within prisons and developing legal manuals and teaching materials on bail and appeal rights to be used in the clinics.

With support from ROLE UK, a small team from Clifford Chance travelled to Nairobi earlier this year to meet with key stakeholders and launch the project. Using lessons learned from a similar project in Uganda where Clifford Chance's involvement was all London-based, both we and APP were keen to incorporate face to face meetings early on in the project. Thanks to ROLE UK's support and APP's meticulous planning, the trip was a huge (jam-packed) success.

The project team met with key representatives from the Kenyan judiciary, prison service, police service and Attorney General's office to secure their support for the project. Following the launch of the Bail and Bond Policy Guidelines last year, there is now an important chance to work with the judiciary and other stakeholders to solidify the right to bail enshrined in the Kenyan Constitution. The team also had an all-day planning session with the Kenyan School of Law – kindly hosted by Coulson Harney, long-time supporters of APP – to agree the detail of the three-year project plan.

The most important meetings however took place in the maximum security prisons in Nairobi. And the students were the stars of the show. If, like me, you are ever tempted to take your legal training for granted, the intelligence, work ethic and sheer enthusiasm for the law shown by all of the students represent three very good reasons not to. The workshops with the students were invaluable in shaping the content of the manuals going forward. Similarly, our discussions with other prisoners about accessing justice led us to adapt the manuals' structure to better address their concerns. And to see APP in action, and witness the values and respect with which they work, inspired us all over again. 

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