By Jeff Andrew Lule
Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) have called upon government to support the paralegal systems to promote justice among the poor persons caught up in criminal justice systems.
Speaking at the closure of a three-day African Regional Conference for Community Based Paralegal Programs at Speke Resort Hotel in Munyonyo Friday, the country director Global Rights, Donald Rukare said Uganda needs more paralegals in communities since many Ugandans cannot afford lawyers.
Rukare said the paralegal system can easily help in decongesting prisons.
Paralegals play an important role in enhancing access to Justice especially to persons that do not have the means or ability to access legal representation and advice.
Due to lack of legal representation many people rot in prisons over petty offences without going to court.
On average Uganda Prisons Services spends about sh128m on prisoners everyday, which translates into sh4, 000 on a prisoner daily totaling to sh128m daily.
Out of the 32,000 prisoners, 52% are on remand and on average stay on remand for 15 months and petty offenders stay there for four months.
Rukare said Uganda has 1,500 practicing lawyers with majority of them being urban-based and expensive.
He believes there is need to address issues like land disputes, domestic violence, women and child rights, employment and informal sector.
And that government needs to employ more paralegals in rural communities to conduct legal and human rights awareness programs in communities.
Uganda has about 2,000 paralegals supported by various CSOs.
According to the new proposal of the Draft Legal Aid Bill 2011, an accredited paralegal means a person employed by the council, government department, accredited CSO, an accredited NGO or a law clinic who has completed a training course approved by the council.
Rukare said government needs to consult legal aid providers and paralegals before the proposed law comes into place.
“A diploma in law is high standard. What happens to paralegals who are not with an accredited legal aid provider or have an advocate to supervise?” he asked.
Rukare said there is need to set standards and agree on what kind of training to be offered for one to be accredited.
The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Democracy and Governance Officer, Allen Mpyisi said with limited lawyers in Africa, community based paralegals will help to promote justice.
The conference was funded by (USAID) organized by Global Rights, Namati, and Open Society Justice Initiative.
It attracted about 50 community-based paralegal programs from over 20 countries.