On March 10, 2015, I was one of the delegates to the 3rd National Legal Aid Conference organized by Justice Law and Order Sector (JLOS), Justice Centres Uganda and the Legal Aid Service Providers Network (LASPNET)
The Chief Guest was none other President Yoweri Museveni.
In his address, he told us of something not very often talked about. “I did Law for one year at University”. Everyone laughed. Unfortunately, he did not explain why he quit.
Later, he, among other things implored the judges to go down to the grassroots and share information with the “wanainchi” regarding the law. In his characteristic style, the President gave the discussion a Christian context.
“In the Bible, even Jesus had to come down from heaven, enter into a woman’s womb, given birth to lke all of us and then He eventually saved us”
The message was very clear; judges need to remove their wigs and robes and go down to interact with the common people to demystify the justice system for them. “If the legal system wants to help our people, it must come down just like Jesus did” he remarked.
As usual, the President shared his bush war adventures. This time, it was not how he defeated Amin and Obote, but rather when he wielded the powers of a Chief Justice by virtue of chairing the NRA’s High Command.
“At one time, I was Chief Justice also; we had one paralegal, this was Jim Muhwezi” he said as delegates, including the current Chief Justice, Bart Katureebe laughed.
The story is that in 1982, two NRA soldiers killed innocent civilians in Luweero after a drinking binge. When the two were arraigned before the High Command, Jim Muhwezi (he had completed a Law degree by then) attempted to apply his lawyering skills. In his defence of the accused, Muhwezi argued the accused acted under the influence of alcohol and thus were not in charge of their minds at the time they committed the offence. Museveni looked at him, then asked
“So, do you want us to arrest the alcohol?”
The rest, as they say, is history but to cut the story short, the two soldiers were ultimately executed by firing squad in view of the public.
“That was the beginning of discipline in our army” the President told the attentive delegates.
But on a serious note, I must commend the President’s team that works on his speeches. He gave a very a conceptually-reasoned address, tackling the issue of access to justice for the poor, marginalized and vulnerable groups in Uganda. He asked the judiciary to embrace technology as a way of improving their performance. He promised to ensure that Parliament passes the National Legal Aid Bill “soon” and Cabinet will also expedite the process of approving the draft National Legal Policy. He expressed support for the proposal to establish a legal aid scheme. “It will take progressive steps just like we started with UPE and later USE” he said