By Francis Kagolo & Anna Adima
The Government has drafted a law and policy to enhance its support to the legal aid schemes across the country with a view of helping the poor and other vulnerable groups to access justice.
The National Legal Aid Policy and Legal Aid Bill, which are now before Cabinet, are also intended to curb the rampant mob justice in the country, according to justice minister Kahinda Otafiire.
Addressing the press at the Media Centre in Kampala Tuesday, Otafiire recognized the legal aid mechanism as the best way to ensure equal access to justice in society.
“The Government is committed to improving the welfare and wellbeing of Ugandans through various initiatives.
Establishing comprehensive and harmonised legal aid mechanisms is a critical entry point for enhancing access to justice for especially the poor and vulnerable,” he said.
The move, Otafiire said, is in line with the Vision 2040 and national development plans. The minister said tabling the proposed policy and law in Parliament is pending a certificate of financial implication from the ministry of finance.
“These commitments demonstrate a shift by the Government from a less effective and less integrated state supported legal aid framework that was limited to the state brief scheme and a few legal aid clinics of institutions,” he said.
He was briefing the media about the upcoming two-day national legal aid conference scheduled to kick off on Thursday at the Kampala Imperial Royale Hotel.
The conference is organised by the justice law and order sector (JLOS) under the theme “accessible and effective legal aid – the key to unlocking Uganda’s development potential.”
The conference is to discuss measures to address major policy gaps, regulatory challenge and other limitations to achieving the national legal aid priorities and the prosperity for all programme.
Under the legal aid scheme, Government can help pay for one’s legal advice, family mediation and representation in court and some tribunals.
Often majority of Ugandans especially the poor are unable to seek justice in the courts of law mainly because of lack of funds to hire lawyers. Others have the preconceived idea that they cannot get justice even when they go to court.
“This has culminated into a state of lawlessness witnessed daily in our society. Many people particularly the poor and vulnerable are taken advantage of regularly, mob justice is rife, all indicating a frustration from inability to access justice, among other issues,” said Andrew Mwayi, the acting manager of Justice Centres Uganda.
“The media chronicle stories, daily, of people who have murdered, committed arson, threatened violence, damaged property, all as a result of land, family or even commercial disputes that they decide to resolve themselves with minimal involvement of the justice system,” he added.
Otafiire is optimistic that problems that are the result of lack of legal aid and assistance, such as corruption, mob justice, or unfair trial, are expected to be solved through the Policy and Bill.
He encouraged judicial officers to always accord warring parties to a chance to settles issues out of court in civil cases as one of the ways to deal with the huge case backlog.
He said the 100 judges and justices and 400 magistrates in the country cannot dispose of the 1,000 cases each receives in a year.
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