Seek out those in need of legal aid support - Justice Kasule urges Legal aid service providers

On 12th February 2015, the DGF convened a meeting for its Legal Aid Program (LEAP) partners and 16 other organisations that provide legal aid under the support of the Independent Development Fund (IDF), at the Golf Course Hotel in Kampala.  The meeting aimed at enabling DGF LEAP partners have a shared understanding of the second phase of LEAP (LEAP II); new ideas/innovations in LEAP II; and planned interventions in standardizing and regulating legal aid service delivery. In addition, the meeting facilitated discussions among partners on documenting outcomes of legal aid interventions; and provided opportunity for partners to build synergies and exchange experiences and ideas on legal aid service provision.

Justice Remmy Kasule, a Justice of the Court of Appeal, who graced the meeting as the Chief Guest, appreciated DGF’s support to both state and non-state actors to provide legal aid. “DGF’s support contributes to consolidating efforts of those who championed the cause of legal aid provision in this country”, he noted. He also thanked legal aid service providers (LASPs) for taking the cause of legal aid forward. “… with your hard work, legal aid clinics are now available in many parts of the country”. He urged LASPs to be proactive in delivering legal aid services by going out in communities to seek out people in need of legal aid. “You should not wait for victims to come to you… they may not be aware of the availability such a service”, he advised, adding that justice is a central pillar in search for democracy and human dignity, and therefore all people should access it.   He promised that the Uganda Law Council (ULC), for which he is the Chairperson, will do whatever is within its mandate to support continued provision of legal aid services in Uganda.

He recognised the Government of Uganda for supporting efforts to ensure state-funded legal aid services; and was optimistic that the Legal Aid Policy, which is currently under Cabinet consideration, will soon be operationalised, in Uganda.

While sharing with participants the new direction for LEAP II, Martha Nanjobe, the Programme Manager, Access to Justice at the DGF, informed participants that the DGF Midterm review of LEAP I informed partner interventions for LEAP II. She was happy to inform participants that the LEAP I Midterm Review revealed growth in number of legal aid service providers; the issues being handled and the specific groups served by LASPs. Ms. Nanjobe, however, noted that the expansion of geographical coverage had brought issues of quality of legal aid service provision, client satisfaction, and organisation of legal aid service delivery into question. She emphasised that documenting outcomes, enhancing quality and organisation of legal aid service delivery would be emphasized in LEAP II.

Sophie Racine, the Manager for Rights, Justice and Peace Component at the DGF, informed participants that, following the LEAP I mid-term Review, DGF donors expressed satisfaction on the geographical expansion made from 26 districts in 2011 to 67 in 2015. She also noted that the findings revealed that the donors were impressed by the number of cases handled (66,219); and the number of people reached (3,617,000) to date. She, however, noted that donors expected reporting beyond numbers reached, and that LASPs should also report on the quality of the services provided. She, therefore, emphasised that in the LEAP II, partners are expected to precisely focus on the outcomes of their interventions in communities, the quality of service provided and satisfaction of clients. She informed the meeting that emphasis of documenting outcomes in legal aid service delivery had also been underscored by the DGF Annual Review 2015.

On issue of standards and regulation of legal aid by the Law Council, Stella Nyandria from ULC informed participants that the Council has planned various interventions to address this need.  These include: continuous monitoring and evaluation of LASPs to assess the quality of services delivered; developing a 5-year strategic plan including a component on legal aid services; sensitising the public on availability of LASPs; disseminating information regarding the registered legal aid service providers and the rights of indigent persons; developing paralegal regulations and a standardised paralegal training curriculum; and developing guidelines on provision of legal aid.

LEAP partners that are undertaking innovations in LEAP II shared their innovations with participants. These included:  use of ICTs to enhance access to legal aid services by the Muslim Centre for Justice and Law (MCJL); the Holistic Justice Approach through the Self-Actualization Model (SAM)  that seeks to ensure that access to justice goes beyond legal empowerment to involving community sensitization and introduction of mental and social empowerment of beneficiaries, by the Federation of Uganda Women Lawyers (FIDA); establishment of Probono Kiosks near courts of law to provide legal aid to the indigent, by the Uganda Law Society; and information management and monitoring client satisfaction by the Legal Aid Service Providers Network (LASPNET/War Child Canada).

Besides the speeches and updates, participants engaged in discussions, reflections and sharing of ideas on legal aid service provision in Uganda.  Consequently, participants agreed on the following as a way forward: the innovations shared should be taken forward as way of promoting efficiency in LEAP II.  In addition, three working groups were instituted including: ICT and Legal Aid Working Group - to explore how ICT can enhance access to legal aid; Self Actualisation Model Working Group - to explore how Holistic Justice Approach can facilitate effective access to legal aid; and the Theory of Change Working Group - to come up with a concept on the changes/results legal aid should cause in communities by 2023.