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CHIEF JUSTICE CALLS UPON GOVERNMENT AND STAKEHOLDERS TO INVEST MORE IN ACCESS TO JUSTICE INNOVATIONS AT THE SECOND LEGAL AID INNOVATIONS CONFERENCE (LAICON 2)

LASPNET with its partners Barefoot Law, JLOS, HiiL and with funding support from the Democratic Governance Facility (DGF) convened the second Legal Aid Innovations Conference (LAICON 2) on 22nd October 2020 at Mestil Hotel. This was a build up to the inaugural Legal Aid Innovations Conference held on 7th and 8th September 2017

The Conference which was attended by over 150 participants both physical and virtual was officiated by the Hon. Chief Justice Alfonse Owiny-Dollo. Also, in attendance were key dignitaries such as the Hon. Justice Remmy Kasule (Justice Court of Appeal); Hon. Justice Jane Frances Abodo (DPP); Hon. Justice Geoffrey Kiryabwire (Justice Court of Appeal and LAICON 2 Vetting Committee Chairperson); H.E Mirjam Blaak, Uganda’s Ambassador to European Union; H.E Dr. Roswitha Kremser, Head of Office for Austrian Embassy and Ms. Rachael Odoi-Musoke (JLOS Senior Technical Advisor).

The theme for LAICON 2 was capitalized on “exploring innovative approaches to enhance Access to Justice and Legal Aid amidst the COVID 19 pandemic.” Speaking to the occasion, Dr. Sylvia Namubiru Mukasa, the CEO of LASPNET informed the Chief Justice together with other participants that the COVID 19 pandemic elevated the need to innovate in various sectors in order to enhance Access to Justice for improved service delivery. Appealing to the gathering, she had this to say “I urge the different JLOS institutions and Legal Aid Service Providers present to invest more resources into innovations.” Dr. Namubiru further explained that in addition to showcasing, the Conference was meant to recognize the Best Access to Justice Innovator for the year 2020.

Ms. Racheal Odoi, the Senior Technical Advisor of JLOS appreciated the timeliness of LAICON 2 and underscored the role of innovations in enhancing Access to Justice. “As a sector we are in for innovations
because such will enable us to realize the effective implementation of SDG 16 on Access to Justice,” Said JLOS STA

   
 Dr. Sylvia N Mukasa (LASPNET CEO) and Ms. Rachael Odoi-Musoke (STA JLOS) while giving their remarks at the Conference

H.E Mirjam Blaak, Uganda’s Ambassador to EU, noted that COVID 19 pandemic presented many challenges on Access to Justice. She for instance noted the spike in the number of domestic violence cases and case backlog was because the Courts of Law remained closed during the pandemic. She was excited to learn that LAICON 2 was meant to provide a platform to innovators to showcase therefore calling upon the conveners to continue with the practice. Similarly, H.E Dr. Roswitha Kremser, the Head of Office for Austrian Embassy commended the 5 best innovators that were due for recognition. She singled out LASPNET’s signature Situational Room as a key innovation established during the COVID 19 pandemic to respond to human rights violations and abuses. Dr. Roswitha recommended that innovations should be centered on Human Rights Based Approach in order to ensure accessibility by all. While concluding her remarks, she called upon Government to fast track the enactment of the Legal Aid law which is intended to enhance Access to Justice for the poor and vulnerable

 
Her Excellency Miriam Blaak the Ambassador of the European Union and Her Excellency Dr. Roswitha Kremser the Ambassador Australian Embassy giving remarks

Her Lordship Jane Frances Adobo, the DPP in her brief remarks re-echoed the previous Speakers to advance her argument that COVID 19 accelerated the need for innovations. She added that innovators need to have mentors and hence offered herself as one of the mentors to the innovators.

Before inviting the Chief Justice, Hon. Justice Geoffrey Kiryabwire, Justice Court of Appeal also Chairperson of the Vetting Committee briefed him that the process of selecting the Best Innovator was thorough and rigorous with a deep analysis on critical aspects such as scalability; originality and sustainability. He indicated that 35 Innovators submitted their innovations from which 10 innovators were shortlisted by the Organizing Committee. The number was then reduced to 5 best Innovators by Technical Committee and finally the Vetting Committee zeroed down to the Best Innovator; 1st and 2nd Runners-up. Justice Kiryabwire further observed that nurturing of innovations is gaining momentum among Ugandans in addition to alluding that more efforts should be invested in scaling innovations because the 4th Industrial Revolution will be driven by the same. He concluded by appreciating the Judiciary for embracing innovations such as the Electronic Court Case Management Information System (ECCMIS) which is intended to enhance efficiency in case management as well as minimizing human interaction as a window for corruption within the Judiciary.

The Hon Chief Justice of Uganda, His Lordship Alfonse Owiny-Dollo in his Key Note address extended his appreciation to the conveners of LAICON 2 for choosing him to preside over the event, noting that the future of Access to Justice is built on innovations. He highlighted some of Judiciary’s innovations which among others include ECCMIS; Plea-bargaining; Small Claims Procedure and State Watching Briefs adding that that his tenure of service is built on enhancing Access to Justice for all. On the downside, he mentioned that the Judiciary is still bedeviled by limited Judicial officers; resources and infrastructure which have continued to delivery of justice especially for the poor. The CJ also remarked Ugandans are yearning for justice citing a scenario where his country home has been turned into a law chamber whenever he visits. Lastly, he called upon Government and the law makers to increase resources under the Judiciary and to appropriately address the existing glaring gaps that have continued to constrain delivery of justice.

The process to recognize the Best Innovators was led by LASPNET CEO who invited the DPP to unveil the winners. As such, Legal Hub Uganda was recognized as the Best Innovator. The former uses Legal Voice Podcasts to create legal awareness; while Yunga known for their security alarm detectors and LDC which pitched the Social Worker and Mega phone concept came through as the 1st and 2nd Runners Up. Further, all the 5 finalists including Kengele Ya Toto and SME Probono Initiative were given appreciation certificates.

The Chief Justice addressing the Conference whilst the other hand awarding Legal Hub Uganda as the Best Innovators

After official opening, the Conference then zoomed into the Key Note presentation and panel discussion segment. The Key Note address was delivered by Mr. Gerald Abila, the Executive Director of Barefoot Law who explained to the participants that innovation is an iterative process involving learning, unlearning and relearning. And on that note, he clarified that not all innovations are tech based but rather technology is just an enabler. Mr. Abila further observed that the pandemic challenged justice institutions such as Courts of Law to adapt Electronic Dispute Resolution (EDR) mechanisms with the increased use of Zoom, Emails and other Online platforms. He then challenged institutions to invest in “Big Data” since it will be the major determinant for making smart predictions and decisions in the near future. Additionally, he appreciated Law Schools in the region specifically Makerere University in Uganda and Strathmore University in Kenya for taking up the lead to train their students on aspects such as Legal Innovation and Creative thinking. In conclusion, he reminded the innovators that innovations are about trial and error and therefore noted that with the current pandemic, innovators are more relevant than ever before.

Mr. Gerald Abila, ED Barefoot Law delivering the Key Note Address as participants listen attentively

To further shape the discourse there was panel discussion moderated by Ms. Sheila Muwanga, the outgoing General Secretary of LASPNET. The panelists included Ms. Lucy Ladira, the Access to Justice Technical Advisor JLOS, Mr. Michael Ocero the Asst. Commissioner, E-Services (Min. ICT), Ms. Ritah Ngenzi, Justice Accelerator Head (HiiL) and Ms. Winnie Adukule, the Founder of Free Child Uganda. Key issues discussed by panel included the need to invest more in research and innovations; government to establish stimulus packages for innovators; mentoring innovators and bringing them to the reality that failure is never an end in the world of innovation. The DGF Programme Learning Manager for Sphere 3, Mr. Anders Bastholm, while addressing the participants, appreciated the conveners of LAICON 2 for organizing a successful event. He mentioned that innovation was a critical enabler of Access to Justice during the pandemic and hence urged LASPs to continuously rethink innovations outside tech for improved service delivery.

Ms. Sandra Oryema, the outgoing Chairperson Board of Directors, LASPNET closed the Conference by urging LASPs to adapt innovations in the ever-changing operating context. She further requested the conveners of the conference to consider attaching a cash prize on the next Legal Aid Innovations Award in order to motivate Innovators. She finally appreciated the Development partners, JLOS institutions present and participants for making it to the Conference.

The panelists at the panel discussion while on the right, LASPNET outgoing Board Chairperson giving closing remarks
LAICON 2 Organizing and Technical Committee posing for a group photo

By and large, LAICON 2 provided a platform to the various Justice System actors; Legal Aid Service Providers; Innovators and Media, to reflect on the rationale of innovations in the delivery of Access to Justice during the COVID 19 pandemic. It further demystified that Innovation is not only limited to tech as it was widely perceived. Justice institutions were urged to invest more resources in Innovations for improved service delivery.

The Conveners are therefore grateful to all those who turned up for LAICON 2 and commit to leverage on the lessons learnt to inform LAICON 3.

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