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Lack of Political Will Slowing Legal Aid Policy

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Speaking to URN this morning, Namubiru said little effort has been made to process and table the National Legal Aid policy. Civil society organisations have been advocating for a NLAP for several years. The policy would provide for free legal services for the poor and vulnerable.
11 Jul 2019 16:40
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Lack of political will is affecting the introduction of a National Legal Aid policy (NLAP) in the country, according to Sylvia Namubiru, the Executive Director of the Legal Aid Service Providers Network-LASPNET.      

Speaking to URN this morning, Namubiru said little effort has been made to process and table the National Legal Aid policy. Civil society organisations have been advocating for a NLAP for several years.  The policy seeks provision of free legal services for the poor and vulnerable.  

Legal aid extends beyond representation by a lawyer in a court to include legal advice and assistance on both civil and criminal matters. According to Namubiru, more than 80 percent of Ugandans cannot afford legal costs. 

In 2012, the first NLAP was drafted by private members after government failed to draft one. Since then, the private members have revised the draft as they consult with different organs of government.    

Namubiru say that government has focused attention on issues like infrastructure and less effort to this policy citing resources. 

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The NLAP is being prepared by LASPNET and the Greater North Parliamentary Forum led by the Gulu Municipality Member of parliament, Lyandro Komakech with support from the Kaberamaido Woman Member of Parliament, Veronica Eragu Bikyetero.

Namubiru says they have had to go back and forth in drafting the policy to meet the demands of a private member’s bills. She explains that a Private members bill should be neutral with very low cost implications on government, something she says is difficult to achieve with the policy.

The drafters have also had to revise the policy in search for an institution to place it. All bills once approved should be implemented under a government institution or agency. 

A major hallmark for the policy is the proposal for the establishment of an independent National Legal Aid Body (NLAB) to oversee the roll-out and delivery of a comprehensive legal aid package across Uganda. 

The legal aid body would have a governing board composed of both state and non-state actors. This is one of the pending issues that Namubiru, says they are working on to finalize the policy before presenting it to parliament. 

 

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Namubiru says that the journey to have the policy is still ongoing. She says they are currently the policy and it should be presented to parliament in about two months’ time. 

She says they are still working with the office of the Attorney General on the institution meant to implement the bill once enacted and discussing the cost implications among others.

According to a cost benefit analysis assessment conducted by LASPNET, the government would have to invest about  17 billion Shillings in Legal Aid annually.

Namubiru explains that this money is nothing compared to the impact it would create. She notes that the policy would improve access to justice through providing legal representation to Ugandans, reduce the number of people in prisons who cannot afford legal costs and reduce case backlog

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