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Interview with the President, Uganda Law Society

Ruth Sebatindira, President Uganda Law Society (PHOTO: Agencies) Ruth Sebatindira, President Uganda Law Society (PHOTO: Agencies)

 

The Uganda Law Society is one of the 17 member institutions of the Justice, Law and Order Sector.  The Uganda Law Society (ULS) is an association of lawyers charged with ensuring high levels of professionalism among lawyers in Uganda. The mission of ULS is to improve the professional standards of members of the Legal Profession, and to promote Human Rights, and the Rule of Law in Uganda by assisting the Government and the Judiciary in the Administration and practice of Law for the benefit of the people of Uganda.

On November 20 2013, www.jlos,go.ug sat down with the President Uganda Law Society, Ms. Ruth Ssebatandira and asked her about the various reforms being implemented by the society. Below is a transcript from the interview.

What is the overall mandate of the Uganda Law Society?

The main function is to contribute to the administration and practice of law for the benefit of the people of Uganda in pursuit of achieving and maintaining the rule of law and observance of human rights.  These responsibilities include maintaining and improving the standards of conduct and learning of the legal profession in Uganda; representing, protecting and assisting members of the legal profession and protecting and assisting members of the public in matters touching ancillary or incidental to the law and assist the Government and the courts of law in all matters affecting the legislation and the administration practice of the law in Uganda.

What are some of the major success stories of the ULS?

The Legal Aid Project.

The Legal Aid Project (LAP) was established by the ULS in 1992 to provide quality legal and advisory support services to indigent and vulnerable people in Uganda and has become an example not only in Uganda but the East African region. The project was established upon the realization that, there was no systematic Legal Aid service provision in Uganda. The situation was aggravated by the fact that the majority of Ugandans lived below the poverty line and lacked access to Justice.

Currently the project is running 10 clinics in Kampala, Masindi, Gulu, Kaborole, Kabale, Jinja, Luzira, Arua, Soroti and Mbarara and employs over 60 qualified personnel who include, lawyers, paralegals and support staff. For the last five years, LAP has been in position to offer legal services to over 51,535 people across the country.

We appreciate the support from JLOS towards the set-up of the clinics of Mbarara, Soroti and Arua that were established last financial year 2012/2013, as well as support towards the ULS/LAP juvenile initiatives.

Other access to justice initiatives being done by the ULS are: a successful management of the Pro-bono scheme; a countrywide prison decongestion programme that attends to over 1000 prisoners every year; countrywide community sensitizations; development and dissemination of IEC materials ancillary to the law; paralegal training and mentoring- we have so far trained over 2000 paralegals countrywide and keep in constant touch with them; with support from the Canadian Bar Association we work to Strengthen Access to Justice in East Africa;  juvenile interventions through our decongestion programmes and other JLOS interventions like special juvenile court sessions, support to the Justice For Children project where we sit on the Steering Committee, to mention but a few.

Management of the Pro-bono Scheme

With the support of the Democratic Governance Facility and in partnership with the Law Council, the Uganda Law Society Legal Aid Project has, for the last 5years, been managing a Probono project. Currently we have over 1000 lawyers registered in the Probono Scheme and are providing free legal services- using the Legal Aid Project as a catchment base for the cases. This would not have been possible without the support of the JLOS institutions especially court and prisons.

A successful professional development programme

 For the last 10 years, JLOS has supported ULS technically and financially to inculcate the need to gain more knowledge on topical and emerging legal issues as well as reduce incidences of professional mal-practice in ULS’ Professional/CLE programmes. Although there is tagged to members’ renewal of their Practicing Certificates,  members have appreciated the need to increase their knowledge and expertise, now acquire even more than the stipulated 20 CLE hours.

With support from the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung and more recently JLOS, ULS established and annually commemorates an Annual Rule of Law day that has metamorphosed into a week-long commemoration of Rule of Law week. During this commemoration, the membership of the ULS and key stakeholders deliberate on topical Rule of Law issues like transparency, accountability and integrity and educate the general public on these issues. This week-long event generates healthy debates and provides action items for ULS to follow up on.

The ULS has distinguished itself nationally and internationally as the National Bar- we have a membership up in the numbers of more than 1500 members and growing. We hold Annual and Extra-Ordinary General meetings that bring together over 1000 members and we take collective decisions under the guidance of the elected President, Executive Council and a modern Secretariat.

How has the ULS performed in regard access to Justice and the administration of the rule of law?

The ULS has performed well with regard to access to justice and administration of the rule of law as highlighted above. In addition, the ULS, using its vast resource of members acts as a check and balance through its Press Statements and position papers as and when the need arises. ULS also provides input to Bills before and after they are presented to Parliament to ensure that they are within the limitations of the Constitution and regional and international standards.

Your overall take on ULS performance within the context of the Justice, Law and Order Sector?

JLOS has enabled ULS to appreciate its potential according to its mandate by involving ULS in its activities at Steering, Technical and Working Group levels. This has propelled ULS to greater heights as it continues to contribute to the JLOS mandate.
 
Further, as the only non-state actor in JLOS, ULS is able to carry out activities on its own and on JLOS’ behalf with an independent approach for example trying civilians in the Court Martial and Prisoners’ pending Minster’s Order.

ULS brings to JLOS its core competencies and contributes at all levels for instance in deepening reforms for a pro-people justice system – ULS has actively participated in the drafting, lobbying ad advocacy for a National Legal Aid Policy that is currently at Cabinet level.

The driving theme for the JLOS SIP III is “deepening reforms for a pro-people justice system”. What are some of the pro-people/pro-poor strategies the ULS has put in place or plans to put in place in execution of its mandate?

The ULS has for the past 22 years run the Legal Aid Project (LAP) currently operating in 10 clinics in Kampala, Masindi, Gulu, Kaborole, Kabale, Jinja, Luzira, Arua, Soroti and Mbarara

Specific initiatives undertaken include: Lobbying and advocating for pro-poor policies like the National Legal Aid Policy and amendment to the Children  Act;a successful Probono scheme; a countrywide prison decongestion programme; countrywide community sensitizations; development and dissemination of IEC materials ancillary to the law; paralegal training and mentoring; with support from the Canadian Bar Association we work to strengthen Access to Justice in East Africa;  juvenile interventions through our decongestion programmes and other JLOS interventions like special juvenile court sessions, support to the Justice For Children project where we sit on the Steering Committee, to mention but a few.

After 12 years in existence, what do you think is the legacy of the sector-wide approach?

JLOS has put Uganda and more specifically actors in the Justice, Law and Order Sector in a leading role and in fuller control of the Sector’s Development programmes thus making them more effective and sustainable.
 
JLOS has led the transition from donor-led, project dominated development assistance to the formulation and implementation of genuine national strategies (like the District Chain-linked Committees and their roles and activities) with active participation of state and non-state actors.

The Sector wide approach has enhanced coordination and collaboration amongst sector institutions in terms of information sharing with a common goal of deepening reforms for a pro-people justice system and strengthened donor coordination and cooperation, which makes the donors stronger while acting as a consortium;

What are some of the pressing challenges the ULS and the Justice, Law and Order Sector face and how can these be overcome?

Delayed release of funding into the Sector and its institutions which delays programme implementation; Real programme ownership and extraction of tangible results takes time to be realized and the need to harmonize donor procurement procedures.

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