Uganda Law Society needs a new “Remmy Kasule” figure at the helm of things!

Sadly the ULS is down on its knees. It has lost its professional prestige- I think it now behaves like students at Makerere University used to behave when it came to Guild politics and elections- where you vote for your party candidate irrespective of his or her merits or qualifications for the role.

One would have thought the ULS would be above all that- that it would eschew politics and remain a solid professional outfit that is objective in all its comments and criticisms of the the state of affairs in the country.

In most countries in the world, Law Societies are very powerful institutions and any statements they make are taken very seriously.The Law Society of England and Wales plays a very important role in public education, and in law reform, quite apart from simply regulating its members.

The ULS used to be professional and effective when it was led by professional and enlightened people who seperated their parochial political views and affiliations from their work as officials of the Society. people like Dr Byamugisha and Remmy Kasule for eg never wore their party vests when they held high office in the Law Society. I personally dealt officially with Remy Kasule when he was at the helm of the ULS and I was the Chief Executive of the Commonwealth Lawyers Association and my dealings with him were very professional and he had the respect of the commonwealth lawyers fraternity whenever he came for meetings.

The current ULS is led by people, a mjaority of whom are very mediocre in the law and join the society to fight political battles rather than do what other law societies do,ie develop programmes of public legal education, research and publish articles on areas of law that need reform, represent the public on issus of human rights and constitutional rights, challnge abuses of p[ower by the executive, play an advisory role to parliament to advice them of the legal and policy implications of decisions they are making or debating, in other words, be the legal guardian for the public. In thios role therefore, one would have expected the Law Society to be making applications to be joined in in as a party in the numerous human rights and public interest cases we have seen in Uganda, the Lukwago case being the best example. There was nothing to stop the ULS to apply to be joined in this case as a party on grounds that it would be in the public imageinterest. Equally, there is nothing that would have stopped the ULS to launch a public interest case againts the Executive or Parliament when the two removed term limits or awarded themselves huge grants and bonuses that amounted to legalised abuse of office.

In the important case of R V Pinochet in 2001, in which the British House of Lords declared that in law, no head of state enjoys any immunity whatsoever from prosecution for crimes such as war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide, and declared that any country in the world has jurisdiction to try the perpetrators, almost all public defenders both in the UK and internationally applied to be joined in the action, and these included Amnesty International and the Bar Association of England and Wales and the Law Society of England and Wales.

Although this case was brought by Pinochet against the British State, he now found himself facing public interest defenders,and one of the best addresses that I have ever heard in a court of law was made by Professor Yashpal Ghai ( formerly of Makerere and Nairobi Law Schools) on behalf of Amnesty International. This case has now set a legal precedent the world-over and is the pre-cursor to the ICC and similar international moves to punish perpetrators of egregious crimes who in the past hid under the cloak of State Sovereignty or Sovereign Immunity..

These are the sort of roles one would have expected the ULS to be playing. It should also be providing pro-bono services and engaging in a consultative capacity to organisations like the Law Reform Commission, The Coomission for Legal Education etc. Instead, I am so surprised to see the ULS is given a seat on the Council of Kampala City Council, a pollitical body, when the ULS itself is not apolitical body. If the KCCA needs legal advice, it can hire its own lawyers- it is not the role of the ULS to provide it with legal advice.

In conclusion, I think the ULS has become a lame-duck organisation and is a laughging stock to the legal fraternity world-wide. It will take a long time to reform it.

George Okello
UAH member in London

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