“Huddersfield Law Society’s Twinning Programme with Uganda is exemplary in demonstrating the power of pro bono work to unite and develop the legal community locally and internationally. The longevity of the partnership is testament to its success and the creation of the Legal Resource Centre in Kampala is a highly valuable legacy”
Citation - Law Society Excellence in Community Investment 2010 Awards: Highly Commended
A meeting in 2002 between Nigel Priestley, then President of Huddersfield Law Society (HLS) and Andrew Kasirye, then President of Uganda Law Society (ULS) led to the start of the group.
The first resource centre was opened in the ULS Secretariat building in Kampala in February 2005 by the Chief Justice, Benjamin Odoki. Since then a further ten regional resource centres have opened and been handed over to the Uganda judiciary. Ugandan law is based on common law and precedent. The majority of the resources held in these centres consist of surplus books and DVD training materials collected from firms within the West Yorkshire area and shipped by the group to Kampala. This centre is used by Kampalan lawyers and students from the Law Development Centre of Makarere University.
Training visits have been made to Uganda every year since 2003. Over 20 members of HLS have now travelled to present workshops. These focus on financial management, professional standards and best practice, advocacy skills and business development. The two day course in November 2015 was attended by over 250 lawyers. The workshops are seen as an important part of the ULS annual continuing legal education programme. The training group usually consists of four people with a mix of experience, age and gender.
This an opportunity to share experience with Ugandan lawyers. In particular, there have been a number of “women only” meetings. There has been a noticeable increase in the number of women attending the training who subsequently set up in practice, including the current Uganda Law Society President!
During the training visits the group has also lectured to students at the Law Development Centre of Makarere University on ethics and professional conduct. Despite over 450 students attending these lectures, the following question and answer sessions are lively and varied.
The Uganda Law Society makes a contribution to our travelling expenses and accommodation out of the course fees.
Good governance and the Rule of Law
When appropriate we encourage the national Law Society to support the Uganda Law Society, most recently to end the two-year delay by the Ugandan President to appoint a Chief Justice. Members of the group have recently carried out a scoping visit for the provision of judicial training in Kampala on behalf of ROLE UK (a new initiative funded by DFID).
The Patongo project
The civil war in Uganda lasted 22 years. By 2004, over 20,000 children had been abducted, over 100,000 civilians killed and over 1.5 million people displaced. Patongo, in the north of Uganda, became an internal displacement camp.
The legacy of the conflict is alcoholism, extraordinary levels of sexual and domestic violence, early pregnancy, depression and chronic, widespread post-traumatic stress disorder. There are high rates of suicide and cases of HIV/AIDS. As a result, there is also a large number of Child Headed Households and children in conflict with the law.
In 2015 we successfully applied for funding from the national Law Society Charity for a two-year programme. This allows us to partner with the Uganda Law Society and Chance for Childhood (a UK Charity) to employ a legal officer and assistant in Patongo to provide advice and representation for juveniles. He and his assistant are the only legal representation in the Agago District which has a population of around 300,000.
The legal advice centre is attached to the Patongo Youth and Vocational Training Centre which is maintained with the help of Comic Relief and other donors. The legal officer Francis Okulu faces the daily challenge of ensuring that juveniles are dealt with appropriately, not as adults (not always easy without birth certificates) on civil, family and criminal matters, often including serious and in some cases capital offences.
The group is made up of members of the Huddersfield Law Society drawn from a number of different firms. It will continue to support the Uganda Law Society with annual training and development.
The Patongo project is making a real difference to young people in that area and we are now seeking a long-term sponsor to take over financial responsibility for that project from July 2017.
As a result of the twinning link, members of the group have been able to visit towns and villages outside Kampala. This has led to a nursery at Kyema near Masindi ,150 miles to the north of Kampala, being twinned with a school in the Huddersfield area. One member has run a marathon to raise funds and another member persuaded his firm to make a significant donation to the school in lieu of a retirement dinner. Together these are funding a new classroom at the school.
The twinning link has delivered tangible benefits to Ugandan lawyers and the community at large. The group members themselves (and their firms) have benefitted greatly from the experience and personal development which have come from being involved in the project.