Posted: 12 July 2014
Another country and another language.
Tuesday's journey to Kampala was uneventful (unless one counts Matthew falling down the steps from the bus and injuring his foot!), although very long – we were told it would be about 9 hours, but it ended up being nearer 11! We were all very glad when we saw the bright lights (and chaotic traffic) of Kampala come into view! Our lodgings in Kampala were also welcome – especially the water heaters in each bathroom. After a week of cold showers there was a real sense of gratefulness in the team for this little luxury!
In Uganda we are working with Uganda Christian Lawyers' Fraternity (UCLF) and Wednesday morning was spent with UCLF's team of paralegals who work in the Police Stations and Magistrates Courts of Kampala. With no state provided legal aid system, the paralegals perform a critical role, offering "legal first aid" to those who are in conflict with the law. The team were all struck by the conditions suspects were held in and the fact that if it weren't for the paralegals many of them would be lost in a system that they did not understand. The paralegals offer legal education, explaining what suspects should expect at the police station and court and how best to represent themselves. Often is it only the paralegals who let the family of suspects know where their relatives are – there is no right to a phone call upon arrest in Uganda.
The rest of the week in Kampala was spent visiting some of the key actors and institutions in the justice system of Uganda. We spent a morning with International Justice Mission hearing about their work to combat land grabbing, visited parliament and also went to Kampala's juvenile remand home. At the remand home, we heard about the challenges facing those caring for young people in conflict with the law – there were over 150, the vast majority of whom were boys – there on the day we visited. Funds are often not forthcoming from central government which can mean that (as the staff put it), "it can be a challenge to feed the remandees" and "we often don't have money for fuel to transport the young people to court for their hearings". So, the assistance that UCLF is offering to these vulnerable individuals is invaluable. They visit at least once a week, taking on cases and offering representation to the children.
On Friday, we had a particularly interesting meeting with the Director of Legal Affairs at the Inspectorate of Government (IG) – the government's corruption watchdog. We heard about the problem of corruption and what the IG is doing to try and combat it – bringing prosecutions against individuals. A large proportion of the prosecutions are brought against individuals in the justice system – police officers, court clerks and state prosecutors. The IG has had some success in these cases, but as the Director explained, it is often the "big fish" who escape prosecution because of the influence they are able to bring to bear on powerful individuals. We also reflected on the role that the church could (or should) play in the battle against corruption. With 80% church attendance, but high rates of corruption, Uganda is a reminder of the importance of discipleship in the life of the Christian.
Then, after a brief stop at the UCLF student moot competition final, we headed North on Saturday morning to Gulu. Here we are working with UCLF's northern office. We had a great morning at two local churches on Sunday, followed by a wonderfully relaxing afternoon at the host's house. Today the team have headed out with UCLF staff for a legal education seminar focusing on land rights.