Reinventing the Rules

Discover the Latest Innovations and Lessons Learned in Rule of Law and Legal Empowerment Projects

Interview with the President of the Uganda Law Society [Part 2]

In the second part of our interview, Ms. Ruth Sebatindira discussed what the Uganda Law Society was doing to combat corruption, work with youth, and reduce case backlog. To read Part 1 of the interview, where Ms. Sebatindira talked about the role of women in rule of law projects and how technology and the international community can transform current programs, click here.

Upon being elected President, you’ve mentioned that one thing you would like to do is change the public perception of the legal profession. How would you do this?

Our members are greatly concerned that the public has lost its trust in us as a profession and to address this, we’ve resolved to revive the internal disciplinary mechanisms of the Uganda Law Society and name and shame members of the bar found guilty of professional misconduct. We will make every effort to coordinate with the judiciary to harmonize their activities in order to minimize time wasted, which may contribute to  the delay or denial of justice, particularly for the poor and disadvantaged members of our society. Additionally, we’ll improve the competitiveness of advocates through the provision of relevant and well-structured continuing legal education programs and partner with other professional bodies and the media to pursue common interests that enhance the administration of justice and practice of law in Uganda.

How will your work with the Education Ministry and the National Curriculum Development Center (NCDC) change this perception?

Corruption has engulfed our country. If the Constitution is taught in schools, right from the start, we will teach our children that accountability is a core principle of our Constitution and whoever is not accountable for Government resources is violating our Constitution. Ugandans must know their duties as citizens, including; to promote democracy and the rule of law, to acquaint themselves with the provisions of the Constitution, and to uphold and defend the Constitution and the law. We see how many people are taking the law in their hands; and it calls for the education of our people to know their duties as citizens of Uganda.

The Uganda Law Society (ULS) will work on ensuring that the Constitution is taught in all Ugandan educational institutions, including primary schools. ULS will help the NCDC to develop the curriculum and work with teachers to teach the Constitution. We’d also like to establish a constitutional week in schools, where ULS works with schools to design and carry out activities.

The idea was to incorporate the young minds, right from the primary school level, into the legal profession. Once you have children consuming knowledge on the law then you have parents, families, communities, and eventually the whole country. There’s no better place to spread knowledge than in a classroom. We need to start at the grassroots level if constitutionalism is to work.

The pro bono sensitization session for youth seems to be a good stepping stone in that direction. Can you talk more about the session and the lessons learned?

Yes, we are interested in helping young lawyers appreciate what pro bono work can do for our country by addressing gaps in access to justice.  Early this year, we held a public lecture at the Uganda Christian University where we spoke to the 1st and 4th year students. The students held an interactive session with our team and were introduced to their corporate social responsibility upon finishing law school.

Pro bono sensitization programmes are one of the channels to support constitutionalism. However, we need to adopt a positive approach so as to effectively meet the legal needs of the indigent, vulnerable, and marginalized members of the community. To achieve this, we need to empower project staff with implementation skills to make smart decisions in service delivery. We have met a few challenges along the way with long adjournments at the courts, lack of funds, and poor resource allocation in the judicial system. We would like to also have more clinics to reach people.

In February, ULS conducted the 2nd annual free legal consultation to the public. Can you tell me a little bit more about this? What were some of the achievements?

With the support of our partners, we established the Pro Bono project in 2008. Its purpose was to streamline the participation of Advocates in the provision of legal aid to the indigent, vulnerable and marginalized in Uganda. The project has over the last five years grown in leaps and bounds; extending access to justice to over 1062 clients countrywide; enrolling over 800 Advocates and operating 9 Pro Bono desks in the Legal Aid clinics of Kampala, Jinja, Masindi, Kabale, Kabarole, Gulu, Soroti, Arua and Mbarara. With this initiative, we have closed the income gap between the rich and the poor; established new legal aid clinics in regions that lacked access to this service; introduced an annual pro bono award to the most outstanding pro bono advocate in Uganda, which also encourages other Advocates to work towards the same goal; capacity building for project staff; branch monitoring and evaluation visits to regions where the projects are implemented; and daily follow ups with clients and advocates.

One of the goals you’ve mentioned you would like to work towards is reducing the backlog of cases. What steps would you like to take for this to occur?

Our members will have to work together with the Judiciary. There are so many frivolous suits that are filed and a lot of duplicity. Some file miscellaneous matters out of a main suit and by the time the main suit is heard, a lot of time has passed. Also, there are many appeals arising out of miscellaneous matters which create another set of problems especially now that our Court of Appeal is lacking the requisite number of Judges. Our members should use ADR (mediation and arbitration) to resolve disputes so as to reduce the case backlog.

Last year, there was a proposal to allow traditional courts to help reduce the backlog. What are your thoughts on this & does this pose any unique challenges to ULS? 

Truthfully, at the moment any effort that will deliver high quality justice to the Ugandan people is welcome. We must keep in view issues of jurisdiction. We must also remember that for effective justice to be delivered it must be delivered by competent, ethical, and independent people. The challenge therefore would be how these Courts apply legal principles. Capacity building in this area would be required.

Traditional justice is applied every day as our communities handle matters through mediation and it is a very good thing. However, for this to be part of the Court system, it requires a thorough study especially since we’ve done away with Grade II magistrates to address competency issues in the Court.

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