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To strengthen coordination and networking of LASPs, harmonisation and standardisation of legal aid service provision by the different service providers, lobbying and advocacy to facilitate a favourable legal and policy environment.

STATE, NON-STATE ACTORS TRACK IMPLEMENTATION OF SDG16 AT 4TH ACCESS TO JUSTICE CONFERENCE

Despite reforms by the Judiciary to ease dispensation of justice, the institution is still grappling with delays in disposing off cases, corruption, high prison congestion and few judicial officers among other challenges.

People out there are yearning for legal services which can only be provided by an independent Judiciary”. This was said by the Principal Judge Yorokamu Bamwine as he opened the 4th Annual Access to Justice Conference convened by LASPNET on the 25th October 2018 at Hotel Africana.

Although the Judiciary suffers from a heavy case load amidst few staff, he said regular interaction through events like court open days can help reduce the fear that ordinary people have for court systems and processes.

He recommended the use of people centric approaches by justice system actors and popularizing the work of legal aid service providers to improve accessibility especially since most accused persons cannot afford a lawyer due to poverty.

In light of the theme of the conference “Tracking implementation of SDG16 on peaceful, inclusive and sustainable development through enhancing access to justice for the most poor and vulnerable”, Justice Bamwine outlined a number of reforms being implemented by the Judiciary to realize SDG16, some of which include: a comprehensive case backlog reduction strategy where judges with pending judgments have been asked to take time  to dispose them off; use of ADR mechanisms,  plea bargaining, small claims to expedite case disposal; use of specialized courts to address vital areas of public demand such as sexual and gender based violence and use of ICT to improve case filing and management so as to minimize errors caused by human factor. He committed to working with organizations like LASPNET to address the cancer of corruption and requested for reports from the Network on tracking the vice.

Mr. Wim Stoffers, the DGF Head of Facility in his remarks commended LASPNET and its members for conducting evidence-based research on issues such as corruption, prison de-congestion and the rule of law, among others but cautioned that research alone was not enough. He called on government to show more commitment to addressing some of the access to justice deficits like protecting human rights and bringing perpetrators of torture to account; enactment of the Judiciary Administration Bill; fast-tracking the passing of the National Legal Aid Policy; implementing the JLOS Anti-corruption strategy and strengthening institutions such as the Inspectorate of Government and Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions.

Mr. Stoffers urged all actors not to become weary in the struggle for access to justice because it is a collective effort and further committed DGF support towards achieving all goals related to Uganda’s governance work.

The conference was the 4th in the annual series convened by LASPNET and it was aimed at sharing the status on the implementation of the recommendations of the Access to Justice Trends Analysis Report for 2017 which was presented by the Executive Director, Ms. Sylvia Namubiru Mukasa.

Ms. Namubiru explained that the Network tracks access to justice trends annually based on indicators such as: existence of a legal framework; knowledge of existence of rights; access to technical services of a lawyer, among others. Some of the positive emerging issues in the period of implementation included: Provision of legal aid to the poor and vulnerable through outreaches and legal open days especially in partnership with both state and non-state actors such as Judiciary, NSSF and School of Law among others; Fast tracking the legal aid law through a Private Members Bill. LASPNET in partnership with Justice Centers Uganda and Greater North Parliamentary Forum with support from DGF and UNDP initiated efforts to fast track the NLAB through a private members Bill led by Hon. Komakech Lyandro; Establishment of special court sessions for SGB Victims. With support from UNFPA, the Judiciary will in this year 2018 establish specialized justice courts to handle over 1000 SGB victims; and Election of new Local Councils, among others.

The findings indicated a persistent trend in the following areas: JLOS services remain urban based with limited local presence; high costs, technical language and corruption remain huge barriers to accessing justice; poor staffing and remuneration still hamper delivery of justice and land matters still form the highest number of cases, among others. The status report made some recommendations a few of which are highlighted below:

  • LASPNET/LASPs should ensure improved quality of service delivery by training LCCs in their areas.
  • Judicial Studies Institute in partnership with CSOs should plan and secure resources to train judicial officers on issues of torture so that they can ably adjudicate over such cases.
  • The Judiciary should institutionalize child friendly procedures across all courts and make deliberate efforts to train all judicial officers including high court judges on child friendly procedures.
  • ULS should explore creating interactive sessions between legal aid lawyers and private practitioners so that each is able to appreciate one another.
  • ULS should encourage more private advocates to offer their services to the state brief scheme, embrace pro-bono, ADR Mechanisms and plea bargain.
  • Uganda Prisons should support efforts to reduce the number of children in adult prisons through age determination and Continue working with stakeholder to sensitize inmates and bring attention of the DCC and RCCs inmates who have overstayed on remand.
  • The Director of Public Prosecutions should provide feedback to complainants and reasons why cases are discontinued and or dismissed.
  • The Uganda Police should streamline its operations and stop sister security organs from undermining the powers of the legal and human rights officers in Police.

The conference was capped by feedback from panelists from institutions like Police, Director of Public Prosecutions, Judiciary, Legal Aid Project of Uganda Law Society, Public Interest Law Clinic and Prisons in relation to their implementation of SDG16.

In her closing remarks, Ms. Pheona Wall, the Uganda Law Society (ULS) Vice President appreciated LASPNET’s efforts in developing the report that had formed the basis of the discussion and Development Partners for their commitment to supporting enhancement of access to justice. She took note of the recommendations to the ULS such as: encouraging more private advocates to support the state brief scheme, embrace mediation and pro-bono as well as plea bargaining, which she committed that ULS would follow up as well as continue advocating for the passing of the Administration of Justice and National Legal Aid Bills.

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