by Kevin

On 24th February 2017, the Equal Opportunities Commission participated in the probono events organised by Uganda Law Society.

Under the theme,’ Access to Justice – the role of a Pro bono lawyer,”  the day started with a peaceful procession from the High court, past the Sheraton and Serana hotels, down to Nile Avenue, on to Jinja road and ended at the Railway grounds which was the ceremonial grounds. The Equal Opportunuties Commision was well presented during the procession.

The Hon. Minister of Justice – Kahinde Otaffire commended the DFG and Uganda Law Society for ensuring that the poor have acces to justice. He requested the lawyers to avoid being profit oriented by providing services to only the rich but also reach out to the poor especially since the ratio of lawyers to the population is very low. He further encouraged lawyers to handle clients’ cases expeditiously and in time.

To the clients, the Hon Minister requested them to always tell lawyers the truth if they want to  be helped expeditiously. The Hon. Minister also addresed the Mayor’s concern regarding the absence of space for margistrates and judges by requesting him to work closely with Mrs. Jennifer Musisi to ensure they get better sitting space. He concluded by informing participants that Government is in the process of establishing a legal Aid project and  system and he pledged to ensure that it is effected.

The Guest of Honor – Hon. Justice Dr. Yorokamu Bamwiine noted that access to justice requires courts of law to be both accessible and affordable and that justice should be availed to all irrespective of their social and economic status. Mr. Bamwiine informed participants that the judiciary realised there cannot be effective administration of justice to Ugandans when the majority population is poor to afford legal representation. They therefore adopted pro-people innovations to improve access to justice in courts of law. Mr. Bamwine further informed participants about the small claims procedure under which parties can represent themselves and commended it as one of the measures which have improved access to justice in courts of law. In conclusion, Mr. Bamwiine  noted that uncompensated legal services to the poor and under presented are some of the public obligations of lawyers in the country and encouraged lawyers to be involved in the provision of free services.

He concluded by making a cry to Government to hasten the enactment of the national Legal Aid Policy to ensure justice is availed to all and as well diversify legal aid service providers by entering agreements with NGOs, Universities, law schools’ clinics and faith and community-based organisations to provide legal Aid services.

In his remarks, the President of the Uganda Law Society – Mr. Francis Gimara appreciated Hon. Justice Remmy Kasule who initiated the Pro bono scheme adding that the scheme has been a success since it managed to enlist over 1,589 lawyers offering free legal service to the citizens of Uganda.  Mr. Gimara said that Pro  bono services have improved the livelihoods of many marginalised persons specifying an example of over 10, 496 clients across the country who benefited from the project in 2016. Mr. Gimara concluded by encouraging lawyers to enroll for Pro bono to ensure there is equal access to justice for all people in the country.

On behalf of DGF, Mr. Thomas Tiedemann – head of section Governance and Human Rights commended the Uganda Law Society for commemorating the day which celebrates the efforts of lawyers in promoting justice through the provision of free legal services to the needy. He added that DGF supports four full time legal aid clinics and that its support has further enabled the Pro bono scheme to reach  more 40 districts in the country. Mr. Tiedemann informed participants  that the continued absence of a policy and law on legal aid has hampered effective delivery of legal services.

“ This could partly explain why a recent study by the Haque Institute for the Internalisation of Law (HiiL) found that people, especially the poor, firmly believe that Ugandan Courts are biased against the poor and marginalised,’’ said Thomas Tiedemann.

Mr. Tiedemann urged every one to advocate for this policy and legislation. Mr. Tieddemann concluded by reiterating DGF’s commitment to partner with any initiatives aimed at ensuring fairness and justice for all through the Legal Aid Program.

Mr. Erias Lukwago – Lord Mayor of the City of Kampala thanked members of the legal fraternity for offering free legal advice to marginalised persons. The Lord  Mayor made a case about the existence of  a court within KCCA which causes severe interactions at the KCCA. He requested that it be relocated elsewhere. He further made a case about the Judges and Margistrates at KCCA whose sitting positions are bad and requested the Hon. Minister of Justice –  Kahinde Otafiire to come to their rescue.

The event was adorned with testiminoies from clients who benefited from the Pro bono services. These intimated how they were able to access justice through the relentless help of Pro bono lawyers. At the event, lawyers from different law firms showed commitment towards offering free legal services to the clients who attended the event by attending to their needs.

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