Paralegal recognition in Uganda

Continuing the discussion from What is your most pressing challenge in working with women's access to justice programming?, which is quoted below, I wanted to add that we are in the process of finalizing a series of research briefs about the status of formal recognition of community paralegals in different countries. The Uganda brief is being reviewed currently by the Justice Centres of Uganda. We have learned that there is an ongoing process of developing Paralegal Regulations under the auspices of the Uganda Law Council. The procurement process is complete and in the next few months they should have the draft regulations in place. When we publish this research brief, I would be very keen to share this with you here and get feedback from you @Laura and other practitioners in Uganda at that time.

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@Laura @michaelotto From this piece I sense some opposition to the paralegal term in Uganda. From my understanding for you to qualify to be admitted to the Law development center for a diploma you need a law degree or am I wrong?

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True

The Paralegal term is used I think similar to the American system? You must have qualified from high school and undertake a diploma course for two years at the same institution that administers the bar course for lawyers and such paralegals usually work as law clerks or assistants in law firms as opposed to the community paralegals who offer legal aid informally. Most of them use this diploma qualification to go for the law course at University level.

Laura

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Thanks @mustafa_mahmoud and @Laura for your insights. It is true that many countries have different legal frameworks for defining paralegals, often making the distinction between community-based paralegals and what I might refer to as commercial paralegals, or paralegals who work as assistants to lawyers. We are focused much more on the status of community-based paralegals, but often the terms barefoot lawyers, community mobilizers, grassroots legal advocates, community facilitators or other terms are used to avoid a legal definition in some countries.

It is useful to know that in Uganda the term ‘paralegal’ being used by the Uganda Law Council includes the requirement for a diploma in law. Do these paralegals work independently of lawyers? Can they take their own clients and/or mediate, for instance? It is very useful to point this out in the research brief on community paralegals that is being reviewed currently, which we will share with you @Laura when it is returned.

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Hi Micheal

You ask great questions. I look forward to receiving the research brief in due course.

Let me just clarify the issue of the terminology of paralegals. This word has arisen out of usage but there is no law regarding this status, it is yet to be developed; however, those who obtain the diploma in Law are widely referred to as paralegals. The Advocates (Legal Aid to Indigent Persons) Regulations, 2007 provides for legal aid to be administered by a lawyer, an advocate or a paralegal and goes ahead to define a paralegal as a person who holds a qualification in law, other than a degree and who is recognized by the Law Council. The regulations applicable are still being developed as you rightly noted, but currently what we call paralegals are those who hold a diploma in Law from the Law Development Centre. They are not cleared to practice law and do not work independently of lawyers, law firms or legal aid NGOs. The Advocates (Legal AId to Indigent Persons) Regulations require Legal aid service providers to have all paralegals in their employment be supervised by a lawyer or advocate employed by the legal aid provider. To independently represent clients would most definitely be punishable under the Amended Advocate Act which contains clauses like -Unqualified person not to practise: Unqualified person not to hold himself or herself out as qualified. If the Law Council can determine who is qualified to provide legal aid as a paralegal I am sure that those trained at the Law School will most certainly be in a favorable position more than community based resource persons.

Laura

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@Laura so do you think there might be resistance with LDC to recognize community based paralegals?

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Ah

No I doubt that because LDC has no regulatory powers but your question is very intuitive because LDC has a stake in formally training paralegals while the ones trained by legal aid entities adopt more of an informal approach to their education. LDC also has a legal aid clinic whereby student volunteers provide legal aid nationwide and it is an invaluable initiative. So you can see where the caution of the Law Council springs from in terms of standard setting around training and recruitment of paralegals. But the problem of access to justice in Uganda ie demand side by far outweighs the supply side. I have submitted a Ugandan study we undertook on access to justice for poor, vulnerable and marginalised groups in Uganda to Namati, if approved for uploading it will provide some interesting insights.

Laura

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Here is your resource found within our resource library: Access to Justice for the Poor, Marginalised and Vulnerable People in Uganda, very interesting resource on the subject to add to the discussion. Many thanks for sharing!