Regional universities within the East African Community (EAC), have partnered and established a joint law clinic to assist the poor, vulnerable and marginalised have access to justice in the region.
Christopher Mbaziira, a law don at the Makerere University School of Law, said such people do not easily access justice, which he attributed to the traditional way the teaching of legal practice is crafted.
"The teaching of law has traditionally been crafted in ways that prepare law graduates for commercial legal practice. We have so many law schools, the number of lawyers that graduate every year been increasing but access to legal services, especially to the vulnerable remains law," Mbaziira said.
He noted that lawyers are taught to practice commercial legal practice. Mbaziira made the remarks at a consultative meeting on legal clinics at the Makerere School of Law.
The clinic, dubbed East African Network of University Law Clinics (EANULAC), was created from the Public Interest Law Clinic pioneered by Uganda. In its maiden operation, EANULAC will be hosted by Uganda and will be a three-year rotational clinic in partnering universities.
"Uganda is the pioneer because we already have a national public interest law clinic. We have made changes and have influenced the legal profession and in the area of public interest litigation. We thought that we should not be selfish but share success within the region," Mbaziira explained.
EANULAC as an initiative, is geared towards ensuring that the way lawyers are taught in East Africa changes so that it includes a package that inculcates skills to promote social justice while engaging in public interest lawyering.
As a clinical legal education movement, EANULAC will operate as a support structure where universities converge and exchange ideas, experiences, pull resources together, learn from each other and do research together.
Prof. Ignace Bankambo, dean of the Faculty of Law at University of Bujumbura, expressed optimism that the initiative would empower students with experiential hands-on training.
"While using the traditional method of teaching, books are opened and theories are taken for facts but these may be different to what is happening in the world today. This method provides for involvement of students in changes within the law in parliament, they can also make submissions and attend sessions" he said.
Maurice Oduor, dean of the School of Law at Moi University in Kenya said the start of the network is timely to curb the current law injustices in the East African countries.
Sauda Nayiga, acting dean of the School of Law at Islamic University in Uganda (IUIU) the clinic will help resolve petty cases and reduce on case backlog in courts.
"Access to legal representation is one way of achieving other rights. Some of these poor people may need only a little legal engagement which will be provided by the students on their way to attaining experience" Nayiga said.
In Uganda only 18.2% of people in rural areas have access to a Magistrates Court within a distance of less than 5km and the rest move for long distances to get to courts to receive justice.
The Uganda Bureau of Statistics 2015 report indicates that at least 18% of Ugandans are chronically poor and the National Development Plan II predicts 43% are vulnerable to becoming poor.