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What you need to know about the Legal Aid Bill in Parliament.

To begin with, Legal Aid is defined as legal advice, assistance, representation, education, and mechanisms for alternative dispute resolution.

The objective of this Bill is to consolidate, update and modernize the Law on Legal aid in Uganda and to codify Government’s obligation in relation to the provision of legal aid as contained in international legal instruments that the state has acceded to.

The Bill seeks to facilitate access to legal representation for poor and vulnerable accused persons by: expanding the meaning of legal aid beyond merely providing counsel, designating the Ministry of Justice as the Government entity that is responsible for the provision of legal aid on behalf of the state, impose an obligation on Government to provide legal aid to persons entitled to legal aid according to Article 28 (3) of the Constitution and finally to impose a criteria for providing legal aid by Government and the accredited legal aid services providers.

The Bill also seeks to ensure that legal aid is prompt and effective, free and voluntary, accessible by all persons regardless of age, race, colour, gender, language, religion or belief, political or other opinion and social status. It is equitable except that priority shall be given to men, women, children and groups with special needs and where it is granted to a child, it is in the best interest of the child.

The nature of legal aid in the bill is that it is granted in both a criminal trial and civil matters. In cases of a criminal trial legal aid is granted from the moment of arrest throughout the trial and from a civil matter, it is from the time the cause of action arises. The person in charge of a detention center shall ensure that every person held in custody is informed in the language that they understand, of the availability of legal services and they can apply for it.

The Ministry of Justice through Justice Centers shall be responsible for providing mandatory legal aid on behalf of the Government when a person is charged with an offence carrying the death penalty or imprisonment for life however the person can reject the Government’s mandated legal aid and make private arrangements.