On Friday, 14 September 2018, the Makerere University School of Law under its Public Interest Law Clinic (PILAC), held a Pro Bono Legal Aid Day as part of activities to celebrate 50 years of the school’s existence. Hosted at the Makerere University Freedom Square, the event attracted participation of alumni advocates, members of the Uganda Law Society, representatives of corporate bodies, legal aid services providers, Development Partners, law students and members of the general public.
The President of the Uganda Law Society, Mr Kinobe Simon, who presided over the event as the chief guest, thanked the school for setting up a public interest law clinic, and encouraged all law students to be passionate about the rule of law and giving back to society. He stressed that public litigation is very important in addressing legal needs of society, and commended the school for holding the Pro Bono event which signifies the spirit of giving back to society especially to those who can’t afford legal service costs.
In his speech read by Prof Okello Ogwanga, the Deputy Vice Chancellor-Academics, the Vice Chancellor of Makerere University, Prof Barnabas Nawangwe, thanked the DGF for supporting PILAC and the Pro Bono legal awareness day. He pointed out that as an institution of higher learning, Makerere University has a duty to train students who can respond to local needs with innovative solutions. “I commend the School of Law for establishing a legal aid clinic, which is helping to expose our students to the communities and the realities out there.” he said.
Prof. Christopher Mbaziira, the Principal of the School of Law, used the event to chronicle the history of the school since its establishment in 1968, highlighting its success and challenges over the years. He recounted that the school established PILAC in 2012 as a legal aid clinic, and with support from the DGF, the clinic has grown to realise significant achievements including contributing to entrenching social justice in the teaching of law, promoting public interest litigation, and getting accredited as legal aid service provider.
On behalf of the DGF, Mr Esben Harboe, a Programme and Learning Manager at the DGF, said that there are many Ugandans who cannot afford proper legal representation. He noted that there is need for concerted efforts to respect, promote and fulfill the human rights of citizens through the provision of legal aid to those who can’t afford paid legal services.
Esben further commended other legal aid service providers such as Justice Centres Uganda, the Uganda Law Society, and private sector lawyers, for doing an amazing job by reaching out to thousands of marginalised men, women and youth with legal aid services across the country. He called for the implementation of the National Legal Aid Policy saying it would lead to; reduction in the cost of delivering legal aid to the indigent and vulnerable groups, reduction in case backlog in the judiciary and reduction in perceived or actual corrupt practices associated with courts.
Besides speeches, the event was a blend of other activities including: a march led by a brass band, exhibitions by legal aid service providers, and provision of free legal services by lawyers to members of the general public with legal issues.
Since 2012, the DGF has supported PILAC to promote access to justice and public interest litigation in Uganda.