How innovation can lead to better access to justice for the Ugandan people
A young pregnant woman undergoes a caesarean by an unqualified doctor and is now in pain every day, but is afraid to report it to the police. A farmer becomes a victim of land grabbing, and is unable to feed his family, but can't afford transportation to the courthouse. A wife is severely beaten by her drunken husband but does not know where to turn to for help. These are all true stories, and we heard many stories similar to these accounts in the course of researching “Justice Needs in Uganda”. In this research launched on the 14th of April by my organization, HiiL, Innovating Justice, we interviewed more than 6000 people from all corners of the country.
It turns out that almost nine out of 10 Ugandan citizens needed access to the justice system over the last few years, but their needs remained unmet. Many of those who embarked on a justice journey, either through the informal or formal system, found the processes to be lengthy and unfair, especially when the other party was richer or more powerful. Others struggled to navigate complex systems in the absence of clear information about the appropriate organization or institution to address their specific problems. And still others believe that no matter what they did, nothing would change their situation for the better. The fact is, across the country, millions of Ugandans have to deal with these issues.
Ensuring Human Rights-Based Access to Justice for Persons with Mental Disabilities
On December 16, 2015, the National Union of Disabled Persons of Uganda (NUDIPU) organized a strategic planning meeting for CSOs and key JLOS institutions to devise methods to actualize recent judicial pronouncements on rights of persons with mental disabilities in the criminal justice system. The event indicated that while progress had been made through joint efforts, more work lays ahead.
Through the Constitutional Court ruling in Centre for Health, Human Rights and Development (CEHURD) and Iga Daniel vs. the Attorney General (“IGA Daniel v. AG”) and the prior High Court ruling in Bushoborozi Eric vs. Uganda, courts have now outlawed prolonged detention of persons with mental disabilities and/or illness in prisons, without granting of Minister’s Orders and/or the judiciary’s review.
In 2011, CEHURD petitioned the Constitutional Court to repeal degrading laws, practice and usage of language towards persons with mental disabilities in criminal justice system, particularly s. 45(5) and s. 86(2) of the Trial on Indictments Act, Chapter 23, and s. 130 of the Penal Code Act, Chapter 120. On October 31, 2015, the petition was upheld by the Constitutional Court, with the prayers for relief sought being granted.
IGA Daniel v. AG is a strong step forward for the equality rights of persons with disabilities. In particular, the Constitutional Court of Uganda at Kampala reviewed the human rights framework applicable in Africa, the Ugandan Constitution and previous Court decisions and then decided as follows at page 22, lines 11-17:
We have found this jurisprudence persuasive, especially as the African Charter is similar to Article 23 of the Constitution. Both protect the liberty of the individual. We therefore conclude that the Minister is procedurally and substantively not a competent person to certify the deprivation of liberty of the alleged mentally ill accused person, without first seeking medical advice and without according the affected person a hearing.
“My name is Rose (not real name) and I have been referred to you by Judge Richard (not real name) from the Land Division of the High Court of Uganda. I am a Kibanja holder on a piece of land on which I have lived with my late husband for sixty nine years now. My husband passed away in February 2013 and he was buried on the same Kibanja. The week he was buried unidentified people came onto our land in the deep of the night, cut down all the coffee and banana plantations and in the morning, we were informed by one who identified himself as a surveyor that the owners of the land wanted us off. We frantically run around and with our reputation as the poorest family in Masanafu we had no money to give to the police to help us. We none the less approached them and they stated that as the oldest residents of our village, they would do whatever it takes to help us. They had also heard about Justice Centres Uganda (JCU) and they provided us a toll free number which when we called, we got very kind attention to our matter. The surveyor was arrested with the help of JCU and that is how I can still smile today, because of the availability of a free legal service which I could never have dreamed of had I to pay for it myself!”