To improve access to justice for the poor and vulnerable persons in Uganda.
The Paralegal Advisory Services (PAS) seeks to contribute to improving access to justice for all in line with the government’s Justice Law and Order Sector (JLOS) priorities. The PAS project commenced in 2005 as a pilot is an innovative project that works with paralegals and social workers to provide legal aid services to poor and vulnerable persons in conflict with the law. PAS’ mandate is to provide legal advice and assistance to detainees in Uganda’s criminal justice system and linking the demand and supply sides of the justice system for effective and efficient delivery of justice.
PAS’ interventions address the challenges of congestion in detention facilities i.e. remand homes, police cells and prisons; overstay on remand (pre-trial detention) especially for non-capital cases; delays in the administration of justice and non-compliance with JLOS performance standards. All interventions are aimed at improving delivery of services and making the justice system more responsive to demands of those seeking justice and those in conflict with the law. It draws its lessons learnt from the last 10 years of PAS implementation. It seeks to consolidate its successes, and also extend its operations to enable it provide even better services to criminal justice defendants.
At the commencement of the programme, interventions were in four prisons in three (3) districts with eighteen (18) paralegals and six (6) social workers. It now covers 61% of the national prisons population in fifty eight (58) districts with representation in all the regions of the country. Currently, there are fifty seven (57) social workers and fifty (50) paralegals implementing PAS activities. The PAS programme sites include: Arua, Kitgum, Gulu, Lira, Fort Portal, Bushenyi, Mbarara, Jinja, Mbale, Busia Soroti, and Luzira, Agago (Patong), Nebbi, Nakasongola, Luweero, Mukono-(Kauga), Wakiso – (Kasangati and Kitala), Iganga, Tororo, Kumi, Kapchorwa and Kampala - managed by Uganda Prison Service and one site in Kampala-managed by Uganda Christian Lawyers Fraternity (UCLF).
The programme objectives that PAS seeks to achieve are stipulated below:
- To increase access to justice for suspects in police stations
- To increase access to justice for detainees charged with petty offences
- To increase access to justice for detainees charged with capital offences
- To increase access to justice for juveniles
- To increase accountability of justice institutions to JLOS criminal justice standards.
- To establish a sustainable, cost effective mechanism for legal advice and assistance to criminal justice detainees
Currently PAS is focusing on the following actions:
1. National Legal Aid Policy.
PAS is part of the task group lobbying for the adoption of the Legal Aid Policy. The Government of Uganda is in the process of finalizing its Legal Aid Policy. A key element of this is likely to be the setting up of a sustainable, independent, Government funded legal aid board, or office to administer and manage legal aid provision in Uganda. The proposed policy is currently before cabinet.
2. Legal aid at the Police.
In a bid to assist suspects to access justice at police, paralegals empower suspects in various ways at police stations and paralegal operations are strengthened. Not only does this enhance the rights of suspects, it also act as a ‘sieve’, with paralegals working with the police to ensure that minor cases are diverted away from the formal justice system through Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) methods, allowing time and resources to deal with the serious and complex matters.
With the use of more focused legal and human rights awareness platforms to suspects at police, paralegals sensitize suspects and their relatives on legal matters, procedures of accessing justice at police and human rights especially when a suspect is just arrested, he or she has access to legal advice. Ideally, as is already the case in some sites, paralegals are provided with a room at police stations from which to operate. This helps increase knowledge and demand for justice.
This is a highly cost effective mechanism, and is driven forward through increased compliance by the police with their Constitutional and legal requirements including to: Inform detainees upon arrest of their right to legal advice; and hold suspects for a maximum of 48 hours before bringing them to court. This helps to reduce overstay of suspects in police custody.
3. Support to inmates and the Uganda Prisons Service.
There are over 150 social workers and acting social workers in the Uganda Prison Service. Although they are spread thinly they provide comprehensive coverage across Uganda. Attaching them to PAS considerably scales up PAS operations in a highly cost effective manner by:
- decongesting Uganda’s prisons of prisoners charged with or convicted of petty offences – through access to bail. Tracing sureties and sensitizing them on how to submit for bail.
- tracing of sureties and empowering them to demand for access to justice for the accused persons by obtaining police bond and bail.
- facilitating access to community service sentences through identifying and sensitizing eligible inmates.
- linking prisoners with the outside world by Uganda Prisons Service Social Workers.
4. Support to capital offenders.
Currently paralegals’ assistance to prisoners charged with capital offences is to link them to advocates and encourage interviews of inmates by advocates before representation in court. The PAS teams intervene by; identifying capital offenders who need representation and link them to advocates; after cases have been allocated to state brief lawyers, paralegals facilitate interviews between inmates and advocates; and provide additional information to advocates on inmates’ cases to improve the quality of representation for state briefs.
Lobby for bail especially after cloaking mandatory remand periods: Paralegals identify capital offenders who have clocked their mandatory remand period and have not been committed to High Court and secure bail for them either directly or through advocates.
Facilitate Plea of guilty cases: Paralegals together with advocates and State Attorneys sensitize inmates about the plea of guilt and thereafter present the lists to Judges for consideration of trial in High Court Mini Sessions. Paralegals/Social workers follow up part heard cases that were adjourned to the next High court session with the High Court Registrars to ensure that these cases are given priority in the subsequent sessions.
5. Support to juveniles.
Paralegals pay special attention to juveniles in the criminal justice system. Paralegals assist juveniles in remand homes to access justice through tracing parents and guardians, follow up their cases in the justice system. Through these actions, juveniles access police bond, bail and their cases are fast tracked. The paralegals pro-actively monitor and represent the interests of juveniles in adult prisons, and press for their release, or transfer to a remand home. Identifying juveniles in police cells and diverting them from the formal justice system or lobby for their separation into their own cells at police. This is done in consultation with the police.
6. Adherence to performance standards.
Paralegals hold justice institutions accountable to Justice, Law and Order Sector (JLOS) standards through civic engagement with stakeholders including Police, Directorate of Public Prosecutions, Courts of Judicature and Prisons. Consideration is given to introducing public accountability and transparency into the system, through publicizing the targeted performance standards locally, and reporting regularly on them. PAS being a member of the JLOS Criminal Justice Working Group raises issues that need to be addressed at national level. PAS together with DCCs publicizes progress in dealing with poor performance and addressing JLOS performance targets.
Interventions by the PAS teams comprising of the Uganda Prisons Social Workers and Paralegals are as follows:
Surety Tracing:- Both relatives and friends of inmates are traced and contacted through telephone calls and physical contacts to stand surety in Court as a prerequisite to granting of bail/bond for suspects and inmates. The potential sureties traced are sensitised on the requirements of court for one to be accepted as a substantial surety able to stand for the accused persons without objections from the prosecution or judicial officers.
Paralegal clinics: - awareness sessions are conducted to inmates in Prisons and suspects in Police cells as well as in court cells waiting to appear before the trial Magistrates. Sensitization aims at empowering suspects and inmates on simple charges for self-representation and enabling even capital offenders to understand the processes and procedures of accessing justice without difficulties.
Basic legal sensitization/counselling: - individual suspects/inmates present their requests concerning their cases to the Paralegal /Social Worker for advice and follow-up with the relevant officers in the justice institutions. The public is also sensitized through outreach to communities and through local radio programmes and talk shows.
Screening and follow up of cases: - PAS teams screen and follow up the submitted lists of overstayed remand prisoners to the trial Magistrates to ensure that they are produced in court so that justice is dispensed without delay. The PAS team also liaises with the offices of the Resident State Attorneys and Director of Public Prosecution and present issues in an attempt to help inmates access justice in time. This especially helps suspects who have overstayed in police cells as well as capital offenders who have completed the mandatory remand period and are not committed to High Court.
Attending suspects’ parades at police:-the PAS team identify overstayed suspects and get information on files that delay at the offices of the Resident State Attorneys and Director of Public Prosecution (DPPs), identify the suspects who need sureties, trace them and lobby for conclusion of investigations to allow for files to be submitted to court.
Mediation: - PAS at Police also mediate between suspects and complainants on petty cases such as simple assault, family neglect, and theft upon the advice of police to reduce inflow of cases into the formal justice system. In some instances mediation is recommended by the trial magistrates when matters are before court.
Meeting Court Officials on behalf of inmates and suspects: - to present specific issues pertaining to inmates and suspects that would require special attention, such as missing files, over adjournment of the trial, to notify them on unexplained delays in the process of accessing justice as well as share issues of special / common concern in the criminal justice institutions as they unfold on the day to day activities.
Coordinating with the community service officers: - PAS teams identify the inmates who wish to plead guilty or qualify for community service sentences and sensitize suspects/inmates how to apply for community service orders. This is done through screening during awareness sessions and basic legal advice /sensitization. The teams liaise with the coordinators/officers of the community service programme and the responsible trial magistrates so that inmates with the basic requirements are granted community service sentences.
The primary beneficiaries of the PAS programme are individuals in conflict with the law at police stations and prisons in form of capacity building for self representation in court. They also benefit through referrals to advocates and legal aid service providers for representation and follow up of complaints in the justice institutions. Complainants and victims as well as the general public also benefit in terms of legal sensitization and diversion of cases from the formal justice system through Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR).
The expected results of the PAS programme include the following;
- Establishment of PAS within an independent government of Uganda body,
- Increased police compliance with constitutional and legal requirements for detention,
- Reduction of the extent to which defendants charged with petty offences are held in prison,
- Increased proportion of prisoners charged with capital offences accessing legal advice and representation,
- Increased proportion of juveniles accessing legal information and advice, and
- Achievement of JLOS performance standards.
PAS teams work with and liaise with the major criminal justice institutions including Police, DPP’s offices, Magistrates’ Courts, High Court and Prisons on a daily basis. They also participate in the District Coordination Committees and work closely with other legal aid service providers and advocates in the respective districts.
Achievements/contributions of the Paralegal Advisory Services:
- reduction of overstay of petty offenders on pre-trial.
- reduction of the proportion of remand prisoners from 63% in 2005 to 53 % in 2014.
- increased confidence of the public in the formal justice system hence increased demand for justice.
- PAS has given a human face to administration of justice. Litigants and accused understand access to justice processes and procedures in layman’s language and are able to express their claims.
- reduction of case backlog and congestion in police cells and prisons through follow up for expeditious trial
- Organized for judicial officers to hold camp courts in prisons. They deal with inmates’ problems promptly and get to appreciate congestion levels in prisons.
- Support and participation of PAS teams in government programmes like Plea Bargain has yielded quick results and is a sustainable strategy to decongesting detention facilities especially for capital offenders.