español   français   english   português

dph participa en la coredem

diálogos, propuestas, historias para una Ciudadanía Mundial

Legal services in Latin America

Evolution of their role and new challenges

02 / 1993

In Latin America, legal services were created between the end of the 1970s and the beginning of the 1980s as a sort of reaction to dictatorship. They are part of the larger process of emergence of NGOs, created in the fields of popular education and social work, in order to fill the gaps left by the state. They played a very important part in the social development of the region.

The expression "alternative legal practices", which often crops in relation to this movement, has not been invented by anyone. It perhaps originated in Italy, but these groups were never meant to stick to a fixed ideology. The term expresses more the previous existence of such practices, which have proved that it is possible to approach the law differently: that is to say, to see the law in a different way from most traditional lawyers. The founding remarks and questions then were : if the law and most lawyers does not meet the needs of the population because of its incapacity, how can the growing gap between the real world and the legal world be closed? How can we make lawyers interested in a social commitment? Which methods should be used for working with the people?

The life and history of the legal services show that the stages they have transgressed have gradually forced them to change their role and their activities. The stages and roles are as follows:

1)The phase of explanation of the law and legal disclosure : as a reaction to the unsatisfied rights of the people, a mainly pedagogical task.

2)The phase of organisation of legal programmes, throwing into question the traditional role of the lawyer. "Alternative" legal services help organise and educate the community, which letting it participate actively in its own defence. The teaching methods in the educational work become clear and include legal theatre, legal radio, popular legal education textbooks, picture books, cartoons and many socio-dramatic role-playing games for the people with scenes taken from real life.

3)The participation phase, where the community takes part in its own legal battles. The legal services must be able to undertake the "collective treatment of a legal problem", which means avoiding isolating individual cases and instead treating a problem which affects the whole community. It also means the involvement of the community in the local power struggle, in the democratisation of the neighbourhoods and in the formulation of suggestions for local government programmes.

4)Today there is still one question left unanswered - how can we make sure that legal services become a factor of social transformation? Now it is no longer a matter of combatting the state, but of constructing a democratic state, a truly participatory democracy. After years of opposition and insubordination this role is difficult to take on. The groups also have to be able to resist power, as some societies maintain their domination by inviting the most capable opponents to join their circle of power, thereby dissolving any resistance.

In the present situation the following challenging questions need to be answered:

- how can the state be made more democratic and the civil society be given more power?

- how can the community be made into a sovereign subject with the possibility of voting and of participating, rather than just a simple subject of citizenship which only votes?

- how can the role of protagonist be transferred to the people who have been excluded during the construction of democracy?

- how can we contribute to the creation of a new social model at this time of structural discordance between human rights and development?

Legal services still have a lot to accomplish: the systematization of legal experiments and the use of this information for popular social work; consolidating partnerships and defining strategical alliances with other development agents, not forgetting the new social movements; participating in the creation of a new social law where the community is able to propose new laws.

Palabras claves

derecho, democracia, abogado, lucha jurídica, servicio legal

, América Latina


Reflections on the link between micro and macro should also be prompted. The author’s remarks were made in a very particular setting: an interafrican conference. For him it is no longer a question of adding together micro experiences but of acting locally while searching for a global alternative proposition. Indeed Third World countries have a point in common; the incapacity of existing law to solve their problems. Reseach based on the specificity of each reality is needed, but with a common denominator, to provoke South/South and South/North dialogue.


Original card in French in Dph data base. The ’title/sub-title’ field corresponds to the ’translated title’ field in the French card.

In: Interafrican Meeting on "Alternative legal practices", Cotonou, Benin, 12-17 October 1992", 183 p. This card was written following Manuel Jacques’ speech on the experiences of Latin American legal aid groups, which was then followed by a debate. Notes were taken and translated into French by Ana Larrègle, Juristes-Solidarités.


Documentación gris

JACQUES, Manuel, Los servicios legales en America Latina: evolucion de los roles, nuevos desafios, Juristes Solidarités (France)

Juristes Solidarités - Espace Comme vous Emoi, 5 rue de la Révolution, 93100 Montreuil, FRANCE - Tél. : 33 (0)1 48 51 39 91 - Francia - - jur-sol (@)

menciones legales