On 24th February 2012, as the court’s stay closed, the country will mark the Inaugural Pro Bono day under the theme “Access to Justice for all”. The event which is being organized by the Uganda Law Society in partnership with the Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs (Law Council) and the Democratic Governance Facility (DGF) will be a regional event with key venues being the Railway grounds in Kampala, Busoga square in Jinja, Boma grounds in Fort portal and at the premises of the Legal Aid Project Clinics’ in Kabale, Masindi and Gulu.
The word Pro bono is a shortened phrase of the Latin maxim, “pro bono publico” which literally means “for the public good”. In the legal sense, Pro Bono is professional legal aid work undertaken voluntarily and without payment or at a low cost to vulnerable or underprivileged persons “for the public good”.
The Pro bono scheme, with a goal of ensuring indigent, vulnerable, and marginalized persons access justice, is premised on the fact that the majority of individuals and communities in Uganda are vulnerable, socially excluded and unable to enjoy and effectively claim their rights by virtue of their circumstances, gender or age among other factors i.e. religious, cultural, political and socio-economic e.g. poverty, unemployment, illiteracy and ignorance. Other communities are disadvantaged and marginalised by virtue of their location and voicelessness e.g. minority tribes and those in rural settings and far to reach areas. This state is often compounded by high levels of corruption as they attempt to navigate access to justice corridors.
In efforts to address this imbalance, the Uganda Law Society in conjunction with the Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs (Law Council) initiated the amendment of the Advocates Act [The Advocates (Pro bono Services to Indigent Persons) Regulations S I No. 39 of 2009] with a target of imposing an ethical social responsibility on all it’s membership to offer Pro-bono services.
The Regulations provide for the requirement of all advocates in Uganda to offer pro bono services for at least 40 hours in a year or pay money in lieu thereof. Where it is determined that an advocate has neither offered professional services for the required hours nor paid money in lieu thereof, the practising certificate for that advocate is not to be renewed.
To achieve this, the scheme has key major objectives of promoting equality in access to justice, improving delivery and standards of legal services through pro bono and interesting Advocates into appreciating the provision of Pro bono services.
The activities of the Pro bono day will start with a march from various Courts across the country to the specific venues where Pro bono desks will be stationed to enable all Advocates present to attend to walk in clients free of charge. There will also be an exhibition desk of all Uganda Law Society projects.
The objectives of the day include interesting advocates more into appreciating the provision of Pro bono services, promoting equality in access to justice and improve delivery and standard of legal services through Pro bono, assessing the impact of services offered, celebrating 4 years of Pro bono service delivery by Advocates, strengthen institutional linkages with other legal aid service providers among others.
Legal aid needs to be perceived broadly beyond court processes so that it can be used to augment options likely to divert some cases from the already clogged court system through Alternative dispute resolution mechanisms.
The need for impact litigation should also be emphasized as a significant option that can advance the interpretation of people’s rights and maximize the benefits of a single case to scale-up impact.
Let us join the Pro bono day march for a more just society where all access justice regardless of socio-economic status.