Empowering marginalized and vulnerable communities through legal aid
Underage and pregnant, Rose [not her real name], a university student in Uganda, did not know where to turn when the father, a government official, refused to provide any support to their child.
Fortunately, she was referred to a Uganda Law Society (ULS) legal aid clinic in Kampala, which provides free legal advice and representation to vulnerable and marginalized communities. With the clinic’s help, Rose took her child’s father to court. After a number of court appearances and home mediation sessions, the case was settled with a monthly support payment that allowed Rose to provide a dignified life for her child.
“When I came here … I didn’t have any money to pay them, and court is always very expensive,” Rose said. “If not for [the law clinic’s] counsel, I don’t know where I would be right now.”
The ULS clinic in Kampala is one of six regional legal aid clinics across the country supported through IDLO’s Community Justice Programme. They offer pro-bono services on both civil and criminal matters, from legal representation, advice and counselling to alternative dispute resolution, including for land disputes, and community sensitization on issues such as gender-based violence, family law and children’s rights.
“In some districts, we are the only legal aid service provider,” said ULS CEO Moses Okwalinga. “Without our presence there, people would be hopeless, because most people can’t afford basic legal services.”
In 2022, with IDLO support, the ULS clinics provided access to free legal advice and representation to 10,423 vulnerable justice seekers. As a result of these services, 956 people secured timely and cost-effective remedies through mediation, plea bargaining, police bonds, bail and/or quick-win sessions designed to resolve non-contentious cases within a pre-determined timeframe. During the same period, 163 civil cases were concluded through litigation.
Roughly 50 per cent of the clinics’ work focuses on supporting rural communities, women, youth and indigenous peoples to settle disputes over land rights.
That was the case for Maria [not her real name], who approached the ULS after being harassed by land grabbers. She did not have the necessary funds to seek help through traditional channels and was ready to give up on justice until she heard about the legal aid clinic. With legal professionals helping to file her case, Maria appeared before a judicial officer who helped to adjudicate the matter fairly.
“The women who attend to us here are kind and handle claimants well,” explained Maria. “They are working to ensure the encroacher on my land title goes away. The matter is still ongoing. I am grateful because many people have recovered their land with the help of this organization.”
In 2022, through the clinics, 34 complainants recovered 154 acres of disputed land and 10 more received monetary compensation.