Frustrating but fruitful

Posted: 15 October 2014

Blog 2 from Rob Dunn

As everyone says in Uganda to welcome each other, 'Praise God!'.

In my first blog I asked for prayer for good relationships, accommodation and a good church. Each has been answered brilliantly:

1) I have been fortunate to quickly form relationships with other lawyers in the office. After a couple of weeks of acclimatisation I have been trusted with more independent work. I have been invited for meals at colleagues' houses, and a colleague called Duncan has invited me to play football with him on a weekly basis. It's very different to Downing or the Wentworth though… It's like playing in a jungle, but with no grass, thousands of mosquitoes and some pretty reckless tackles!

2) I have found some fantastic accommodation. It's 5 minutes' walk from the office and 5 minutes' walk from the supermarket, right in the centre of Kampala

3) I now attend Kampala International Church. It's a large bible-teaching church with people from all over the world. People are very welcoming too. I've been invited to many houses for Sunday lunch, and even to a men's church rugby match every Monday night. I'm awful and have absolutely no understanding of the offside rule – but it's nevertheless great fun. I now also attend a midweek Bible study with 4 Ugandans, a Kenyan, a German and a man from Reading. What a mix.

Frustrating but fruitful is not only some more convenient alliteration, but a good reflection of my experience of the legal work I have begun to get involved in. The first few weeks were an exercise in acclimatisation, spent learning Ugandan law, most of which is very similar to English law, and visiting courts, prisons and police stations with other lawyers at UCLF to see justice Ugandan-style. I was also asked to deliver some talks to university law students, encouraging involvement in legal aid work.

The last week or so has seen me conducting my first pieces of independent work.

Firstly, it has been incredibly frustrating. The Ugandan justice system is the slowest and most inefficient justice system I have ever experienced. I'll give you two examples: Last Monday I travelled for 2 hours to Kayunga. My task was to meet unrepresented suspects in the cell before their hearings to find out their details, offence, and how long they had been on remand. The objective was to advise them how to apply for bail, or for their case to be dismissed. This is vital in Uganda. Whilst Britain has a culture of 'investigate then arrest', Uganda's is the reverse. This, combined with a lack of finance and an engrained culture of corruption can leave suspects languishing for up to 6 years in prison without a trial. Prosecutors repeatedly visit court to tell the judge that investigations 'remain incomplete'. Last Monday however, after interviewing the suspects then waiting another hour or so for things to begin, a court official emerged to tell the awaiting lawyers and witnesses that the judge wasn't coming today. No reason given. Moreover, on Monday I travelled to Entebbe to advise suspects. Each criminal case for the whole morning was however, for a different reason each time, simply adjourned for two months later.

Secondly though, when you do see fruit and the hope the work can bring, this makes it all the more rewarding. I have had the privilege of interviewing some of Kampala's poorest individuals, both in the office and in police stations, courts and prisons. I have been struck by their determination, their love for their families, and their sense of being wronged, but also the extent of their poverty and how much worse their situation would be without legal aid. Last week I interviewed a man in Luzira Prison charged with murder. The death penalty is a possibility if he is eventually found guilty. However, investigations remain 'incomplete' months after arrest and with neither money nor legal knowledge, a several year pre-trial stretch awaits him. His wife and immediate family have died, leaving him with 7 children under the age of 13 which are currently fending for themselves with no government support. He is also suffering from Malaria. His situation seems pretty dire. Within a week though UCLF interviewed him, paid and filed his bail application and will represent him at the hearing.