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Overview of legal aid services offered by Justice Centres Uganda

Choosing indigent persons

During operations, JCU staff ask indigent persons to apply and then screen them to determine whether they qualify for legal aid as indigent persons. It was agreed that indigent persons would be selected by determining how much they earn to establish whether they can afford to pay for the service.

JC staff could also consider the cause of the indigence: for example if one is a widow or an orphan, which usually means that one is marginalized then it would add to their chances of accessing the service. It was also decided that a comprehensive Means and Merits Test (MMT) would be designed and applies to reach this decision.

Alternative Dispute Resolution in Legal aid

JCU Uganda has done well as far as solving disputes without going to court is concerned. JCU emphasizes  Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) to give the ordinary person a chance to deal with their dispute. JCU practises to form of ADR. Community ADR where the matter is solved outside court and Court Annexed ADR  where a magistrate or judge asks JCU to  mediate the matter.

Since court takes so long and is technical and complicated, we encourage communities to go back to the age way of resolving disputes, using a third neutral party. That way, everybody wins as opposed to court with a clear winner and clear loser. ADR benefits both clients and respondents who have participated in the mediations since the procedure allows JCU to create legal awareness on the topic at hand before or after the mediation is carried out. Litigation is an option Where ADR fails.

Litigation

CU handle cases from their clients which fall under the categories of family, land, criminal and others which don’t fall in the three listed categories. The most common of these are land cases. The main issues being disputes over Administration of Estates, evictions by landlords, and trespassing on land. Under family law, the biggest disagreements arise from fathers neglecting their children and refusing to pay for their maintenance.

The other category of cases that JCU advocates attend to is criminal. One of the issues dealt with under this is the Prison decongestion Programme. The  purpose of PDP is to identify prisoners  who have stayed passed the mandatory period of remand, identify petty offenders who have not yet received a sentence, help prisoners secure mandatory bail, identify juveniles who are imprisoned with adults and inspect the conditions which prisoners are subjected to. In addition to PDP, JCU advocates also represent criminal persons referred to them  by the government.

This  is done under the State Brief Scheme where government is supposed to provide the criminal persons with an adovocate. One example of cases that do not fit in the categories mentioned above, but are still dealt with by JCU is employment cases. The common problem that arises here is individuals who are employed with no contracts.

Referrals

Clients who JCU feels can be better helped elsewhere are referred to other service providers. However, JCU also receives referrals from other institutions, i.e. Administrator General, the police, the courts and Local Councils.

Outreach

Outreaches are done to create community awareness and empowerment. Their aim is to sensitise clients about the law, their rights and how to claim them. The other element is to make sure that individuals  are knowledgeable of the law so that they do not break it.

This in turn helps decongests the prisons and the courts. Outreaches are also a means of identifying  problems that the community is facing. This is used to advise policy and law makers with regards to laws and policies that need to be made or revised. 

The outreaches are done within the community at churches, mosques, schools, prisons, local groups (i.e. persons with disabilities), women’s groups and police stations.

Public awareness

Justice Centres Uganda (JCU) disseminates awareness messages through different avenues. One of these is through radio talk shows and spot messages. During the talk shows one  of the JCU advocates talks about a specific legal matter and answers questions from the audience.

The spot messages also discuss a specific legal matter in a form of a dramatizations. As the national coordinator has pointed out, JCU has reached people within the community  with “awareness messages on marriage, succession and inheritance, the law on defilement, bride price and the law, land law and land rights, women and the law, Property rights, application of customary laws and rights of women, the functionality of the LC courts and the roles of LC courts in access to Justice, fundamental Human Rights, Domestic violence, Sexual offences, child to child sex, Will writing, gender based violence and rights of prisoners among others.

 

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