Pro-bono services in Uganda are premised on the fact that a significant proportion of the Ugandan population lives in abject poverty. This leads to limited access to justice as they cannot pursue the same due to the high related costs. According to the National Development Plan1, the Justice, Law and Order Sector (JLOS) notes that the key barriers to access to justice include: growing caseload, physical distance to service institutions, technical barriers, poverty, and lack of access by women and marginalized groups. It further indicates that women experience more barriers in accessing justice because they have higher illiteracy levels and lack information about legal rights. To this end, prevailing poverty and its attendant restriction on mobility limits access to legal services and as such occasions injustice.
The Pro-bono Scheme of the Uganda Law Society was initiated as a pilot project by the Uganda Law Society in partnership with the Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs, (Law Council) supported by the Legal Aid Basket Fund (LABF) in 2008.
The Project currently covers the districts of Kampala, Gulu, Jinja, Kabale, Kabarole, Masindi, Soroti, Arua and Mbarara through the satellite clinics of the Legal Aid Project (LAP) of the Uganda Law Society.
What is Pro-bono?
The term Pro-bono is generally used to describe professional legal aid work undertaken voluntarily and without payment or at a low cost to vulnerable or underprivileged persons.
The practical expression of this tradition requires continuous examination and renewal in order to meet the challenges of a dynamic society and profession. Thus, administration of justice will continue to be faced with the reality of litigants comprised of represented "haves" and unrepresented "have nots".
Goal of the Scheme
'Ensure Indigent, Vulnerable and Marginalized Persons Access Justice'.
Promote equality in access to justice and improve delivery and standard of legal services through Pro-bono,
Interest advocates into appreciating the provision of pro bono services,
Strengthening institutional linkages with other legal aid service providers,
Promote and emphasize the use of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR),
Promote networking and collaboration with stakeholders at local and international levels to improve the administration of justice.
Types of Services
The key services offered by the Advocates under the Scheme include but not limited to:
Alternative Dispute Resolution Mechanism such as; Counseling, legal advice, mediation. Negotiations, reconciliations and arbitration;
Legal representation in Courts of Law;
Legal advice and Counseling;
Legal and Human Rights awareness campaigns such as community sensitization, media campaigns and simplified information materials.
Nature of services
Related to but not limited to: Administrative law, Business law, in relation to non profit making organization, Child care and protection, Criminal law, Debt and credit, Discrimination, Employment and Industrial law, Family and Succession law, Wills and Estates, Human Rights, Land Rights, Tenancies, Women's Rights, Environmental and Health and any other matter approved by the Law Council or a body delegated by the Law Council for that purpose.
Business law in relation to profit making organizations; Intractable disputes between neighbours; Personal injury and professional negligence; Traffic matters; motor vehicle accidents and Local government and planning issues.
The Role of Uganda Law Society
As the National Bar Association of Uganda, Uganda Law Society is mandated under the Uganda Law Society Act to:
Assist the public in all matters touching, ancillary or incidental to the law;
To lobby, advocate and ensure respect of the rule of law for similar legal rules and rights.
The Role of the Law Council
The Law Council is mandated to enforce and regulate the provision of legal services and in pursuit of this directive, it enacted the Advocates
(Pro-bono Services to Indigent Persons) Regulations SI No. 39 of 2009 under which Advocates are required to provide forty (40) hours of Probono services every year or make payment in lieu.
Management of the Pro-bono Scheme
The Scheme is managed by a Board of Trustees namely;
Two members of the Law Council, one of whom shall be the chair person of the Board;
The President of the Uganda Law Society;
The Chief Registrar or his or her representative; and
A representative of the Attorney General.
The current prominence in the provision of pro-bono services in Uganda can be largely
credited to the Justice, Law and Order Sector (JLOS) institutions and the Civil Society
Organizations (CSO's) which have been very instrumental in advancing pro-bono
services to the poor and marginalized groups. Key JLOS institutions include:
Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs (Law Council);
Ministry of Internal Affairs;
Directorate of Public Prosecutions;
Uganda Law Reform Commission;
Uganda Police Force;
Uganda Prisons Service;
Ministry of Local Government (Local Council Courts);
Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development (Probation Services and
Uganda Human Rights Commission;
Judicial Service Commission;
Uganda Law Society; and
Uganda Registration Bureau Services.
Civil Society Organizations have formed an umbrella body of Legal Aid Service
Providers Network (LASPNET) that provide free legal and advisory services to indigent
persons. These include:
The membership of LASPNET among others includes:
Legal Aid Project of the Uganda Law Society (LAP);
Legal Aid Clinic of the Law Development Centre (LAC);
Justice and Rights Associates (JURIA);
Alliance for Integrated Development and Empowerment (AIDE);
Avocats Sans Frontieres (ASF);
Defence for Children International (DCI);
Uganda Association of Women Lawyers (FIDA);
Uganda Christian Lawyers Fraternity (UCLF);
Refugee Law Project (RLP);
Foundation for Human Rights Initiative (FHRI);
Inter-Religious Council of Uganda (IRCU);
Mifumi Human Rights Defenders' Network (MHRDN);
Platform for Labour Action (PLA);
Public Defenders Association of Uganda (PDAU);
Uganda Gender Resource Centre (UGRC);
Uganda Land Alliance (ULA);
Uganda Network on Law, Ethics and HIV/AIDS (UGANET);
Uganda Youth Development Link (UYDEL);
Youth Justice Support-Uganda (YJSU); and
Alliance for Integrated Development and Empowerment (AIDE).
Achievements so far:
A Pro-bono desk was set up at the Secretariat for Scheme's focal coordination;
Over 350 Advocates have so far enrolled into the Scheme;
The Scheme is currently implemented in the districts of Jinja Gulu, Kabarole, Kabale, Masindi and Kampala.
Sensitization workshops have been held in Gulu, Mbale, Mbarara and Kampala to introduce the Scheme to Advocates as well as enlighten them on the Pro-bono Regulations.
Has maintained good relations with its funders and stakeholders.