KAMPALA – Legal Aid Service Provider’s Network – LASPNET together with the stakeholders including members of Parliament, the national working group, the development partners, Uganda Prison Service, Ministry of Justice, FIDA Uganda, Justice Centre Uganda, United Nations Development Programme – UNDP which is funding the process have held a consultative and consensus-building meeting on the National Legal Aid Bill 2022.
The National Legal Aid Bill 2022 which was previously moved in the 10th Parliament but did not go far due to the closure of business, seeks to streamline the provision of legal aid services to Ugandans.
Speaking to the press at Hotel Africana on Monday, Sylvia Namubiru Mukasa, CEO, LASPNET said they have been reviewing the draft law and picking views and opinions from the stakeholders on how to strengthen the law so that the department of the legislation of Parliament can strengthen it before it is tabled before Parliament.
“Today, all the stakeholders have agreed in unison that this Bill is long overdue and they have pledged their support towards ensuring that it works and they are already ready to appear before the Parliamentary committee at an appropriate time to present different views as they’ll be required by the committee.”
Asuman Basalirwa, MP Bugiri Municipality, and the current mover of the Bill said that the current legal regime is not sufficient enough to cover the provision of legal aid.
Basalirwa is moving the Bill together with Kumi Municipality MP Silas Agon from former Gulu Municipality MP Lyandro Komakech.
Basalirwa said that the legal aid service providers Uganda has today are not streamlined, not very structured and are not very national in the provision of their legal services.
“The coming into force of this Bill will ensure that legal aid service provision is covered nationwide, legal services aid providers are known, accredited and there is also legal protection. It also seeks to make it criminal for anybody to obstruct legal aid service providers from executing their mandate. The law is timely, we want to invite the public to support the MPs and also call on the government to partner with us to ensure that as a country we a law,” he said.
He revealed that although the Speaker ruled that all business of the previous parliament went with it when they took over the Bill from the previous movers they followed the guidance of the Speaker to resurrect it.
“I want to inform you that we were able to get a certificate of financial implications and as we speak the Bill has been gazetted and moving forward. In fact, the critical step we are now looking to is having this Bill referred to the committee.”
Basalirwa asked the public to support them because they are the primary consumers of the Bill.
He also revealed that there are some stakeholders who are looking at the Bill as one intended to take away their space, saying that it is not the case.
“The objections come from misconceptions. It’s our responsibility to explain the rationale and objectives of this Bill. It is not taking away anybody’s space, as a matter of fact, the Bill is strengthening all legal aid service providers.”
Mr Besigye Aaron, the National Coordinator – Justice Centre Uganda emphasized the role of government, saying that the government should be at the center stage of providing legal aid because it is one of its core mandates.
“The government should actually not even be frightened by this Bill because it is already providing legal aid support but what we are asking is to streamline and make sure that in every part of the country you find a legal service provider.”
Komakech said that the Bill is one of the most important Bills that Parliament should ensure they pass this year.
“This Bill should have been passed a long time ago but all the same, we are not late.”
He said that the Bill comes to strengthen what the government is already doing.
“Government gives legal support to some of those under capital offense but we need these to spread the whole country so that the poor woman in the village side, that man who loses his land can have the ability to run to courts of law when he is legally supported.”
Veronica Bichetero, a former seconder of the Bill said the National Legal Aid Bill 2022 should be comprehensive legislation, consolidating all the laws that are existing.
“This law is so important. It’s the only law that will help give access to justice but it is also the law that will help with criminality and security and insecurity that is going on.”
Ms Susan Baruku said as FIDA Uganda, they welcome this initiative because it’s a law that is going to close the gender gap in so many ways.
“…when you look at our different statistics, you see that women are actually at the lower level when it comes to empowerment and access to land and property rights.”
“So this is a law which essentially fixed to ensure that each and every Ugandan including the most vulnerable groups of people in this country. Women will be able to have access to lawyers to represent them on any legal issue,” she added.
Baruku said that the economic empowerment gaps for women often affect their rights to justice because either they may not be able to afford a lawyer or they may not be able to make it to court to have their cases justly heard and determined.
“This is a law that really speaks to ensure that every Ugandan including women who are discriminated will be able to have legal representation and have their rights enforced raging from property rights as well as civil liberties which will also help in improving their economic life.”