The year 2005, many lawyers say, was the highest point in the history of Uganda Law Society (ULS).
The reason is simple: ULS in enforcing its objective of contributing to upholding and promoting the rule of law in Uganda.
It successfully challenged in court the invasion of the High Court by the Anti-Terrorism Task Force Urban hit squad, popularly known as Black Mamba. The feared squad, which brandished artillery, had rearrested Opposition activist Dr Kizza Besigye and 22 other suspects, who had been granted bail after being charged with offences including terrorism and illegal possession of firearms.
Approximately 15 years down the road, the sentiment among lawyers across the board is unequivocal: the law society has driven itself into irrelevance.
“The law society is generally perceived as an elite group of jokers, fat cats, and government stooges,” Isaac Ssemakaddde, a lawyer at Centre for Legal Aid, and a serial critic of the society, says.
If it is to regain its lost glory, lawyers believe the society should ditch cowardice and take on government through what they call strategic litigation.
“ULS should prioritise its role as a defender of public interest, rule of law and human rights so that democracy and genuine public participation underpin the imminent elections,” Eron Kiiza, a lawyer with a bias in human rights, says.
“ULS must strengthen the battle against impunity and the voice of the voiceless. ULS should hold authorities to account for how they exercise power and influence the quality of policies through strategic litigation and intensive advocacy,” he adds.
Lawyers, nevertheless, insist ULS hasn’t lost its mojo but they opine that the society should evolve in tandem with emerging challenges facing its members.
“Currently, there are lawyers who cannot access their offices because they are located in arcades [which have not yet been allowed to open in the face of Covid-19]. How does ULS help such members?” asks Elison Karuhanga, a partner at Kampala Associated Advocates (KAA).
The direction ULS takes will depend largely on the person the lawyers will elect as their 20th president in the looming elections whose date is yet to be known.
Six lawyers picked up and returned forms earlier this year to replace Simon Peter Kinobe, who has served his two terms and which, as per the ULS constitution, automatically rules him out of the contest.
The elections were supposed to be held on April 4, but coronavirus took a foothold in the country, leaving the organisers no option but to suspend the process indefinitely.
Phiona Nabasa Wall
Nabasa, who has been part of Kinobe’s administration serving as ULS vice president, diagnoses the ULS problem in five parts: lawyers are out of work, and more are working harder for less; lawyers are dying for lack of medical care while young members suffer sexual and other forms of abuse, more members are being persecuted and prosecuted for doing their work, the society is heavily fragmented and divided, practice is heavily affected by case backlog, graft and uncoordinated strategies to resolve the issues.
A senior manager, legal services at the National Water and Sewerage Corporation, Nabasa promises that ULS under her stewardship will be faithful to its membership and mandate, available to its membership and stakeholders, and teachable in its character and reputation.
One of the key promises Nabasa makes is to build a lawyer’s business growth capacity.
She says she will be able to achieve the goal through skilling lawyers in current trends in digital legal practice, governance, taxation, and procurement.
Besides, Nabasa says ULS under her will ensure there’s what she terms as “ring-fencing certain areas of practice such as labour and land offices to ensure that young lawyers are employed to improve compliance.”
There is a raft of reforms that Nabasa, an MBA from OLWA, an online university, says she wants to institute in the society, including to review financial priorities of the secretariat, constitute a shadow cabinet whose role will be to advise her council, prioritise young members who she calls “the future of ULS” and demystifying the office of the president.
In March, when the government listed what it coined as “essential workers” - who were to operate unfettered amid the lockdown- advocates where nowhere on the list.
In a move that ultimately didn’t obtain its major objective, Wameli’s law firm, Wameli & company Advocates, dashed to court asking it to compel government to include the advocates on the list of essential service providers to enable them to offer legal services and also quash the statutory instrument on grounds that it was unconstitutional.
Wameli, who first attracted media attention when he aided suspects accused of murdering former police spokesperson Andrew Felix Kaweesi get bail, has premised his hunt for the ULS presidency on a 10-point programme.
He says his main focus will be member’s condition of practice.
In his first point programme, Wameli will lobby for the scrapping of the Execution & Bailiff Division of the High Court by the Principal Judge, resist the arrest of lawyers in course of their work, stand with and encourage ULS members in whatever seemingly controversial or complicated matter they are handling in line with the profession, resist violation of court orders, resist mistreatment of lawyers by judicial officers; that’s to say, an attack on a lawyer will be treated as an attack on the society; negotiate, as a society for higher pay on state briefs, and encourage membership with the ULS Sacco.
During the lockdown which has lasted three months, Oundo has spearheaded a number of online discussions that have ranged from trade and tax, technology in law practice, National Social Security Fund (NSSF) payments, impact of Covid-19 on the criminal justice system, among other topics.
To make ULS great again, Oundo devises five pillars. They include promotion of the rule of law, a modern and fearless bar association, focus on professional development and members’ welfare, and foster access to justice through a regional presence of the ULS.
Perhaps in an effort to connect with the young lawyers who are financially struggling and feel left out, in his profile, Oundo describes himself as “a hustler”.
He shares a story of how he set up his law firm, Oundo & Co. Advocates in one room on Plot 7 at Dewinton Road, Kampala.
“I struggled to make ends meet, pay rent, and renew [practicing certificate]. Are there times when I felt like giving up? Yes, so many times, but I did not,” Oundo, whose law firm now employs 15 staff, shares.
“I understand the hustle,” he emphasises.
Oundo is not a newcomer in ULS since over the years, he has served on various committees of the society, including the Investment Committee in 2016-17; and the ULS House mobilisation committee in 2018-2019.
“I believe change begins with us and that one must serve in order to lead,” Oundo, whose specialty is in corporate and finance projects, says.
Anne Karungi, who currently sits on ULS’s executive council representing central region, has premised her candidature on five sticking issues: institutional excellence, rule of law and administration of justice, legal career and legal practice, members’ welfare and socio-economic development and the last being what she terms as post coronavirus era
A lawyer at Muwema and Company Advocates and Solicitors, Karungi talks about” strong and ethical leadership, “ensuring good governance principles of transparency and accountability in our decision-making processes” and “leveraging on technology in order to develop self- accounting software that will ensure the necessary controls are in place, as well as easy access to information by members.”
Under rule of law and administration of justice, Karungi says she will channel her energies on pressuring the Judiciary to expedite cases, zero-tolerance message to government on issues concerning rule of law, file and support strategic litigation, and call an end to corruption in the Judiciary.
In as a far as legal career and legal practice is concerned, Karungi says she will institute collaborative engagements with other Bar Associations for benchmarking purposes.
“Territorial protection of our practice through formulation of regulations that prevent foreign lawyers becoming lead counsel in matters within our jurisdiction,” Karungi says in her manifesto, adding that her regime will work towards amending the Advocates Act “to be in tandem with current trends in legal practice.”
With young lawyers feeling left out, Karungi, who says as a member of ULS executive council, has participated in the enrollment of hundreds of lawyers into the profession, insists that going forward, she will create a young lawyers’ division at the ULS secretariat, which she says will ensure young lawyers obtain Continuing Legal Education (CLE) at a subsidized rate.
Under welfare and socio development, Karungi talks about “supporting the lawyers league to build a legal network and concretize relations, negotiate subsidised health insurance for the members, and engage experts to manage and run the saving scheme for our members, which will assist and benefit members in case of emergencies.”
In light of the financial havoc occasioned on the legal community by the coronavirus pandemic, Karungi says there is need to go back to the drawing board and rebuild systems and structures.
“We need to appoint a taskforce comprised of both seasoned and young lawyers to assess loss occasioned to us [legal fraternity] and how we can rebuild what we have lost in this period,” she says, adding that the Judiciary needs to expedite the E- judiciary system in view of Covid-19.”
Walusimbi divided his manifesto into three “pillars” that he hopes will persuade lawyers to vote him as their president.
First, Walusimbi who practices law at Walusimbi & Company Advocates, lists accountability as the first pillar in his manifesto.
He says he will ensure accountability deficits within what he calls” our cherished institution” through answering existing donor queries and setting up a robust system.
“Set up systems of robust checks and balances in the disbursement of funds such as totally moving from cash payments and adopting the Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Assets cycle in all procurements for the society,” Walusimbi’s manifesto reads.
Secondly, Walusimbi promises that under his tutelage, ULS will refocus the secretariat’s attention to members’ welfare issues.
“Offer institutional support to our members outside private practice in echoing their grievance,” he says.
“Support the Legal Aid project to perform necessary reforms to regain the confidence of donors and secure the welfare of our members working there,” he adds.
Walusimbi, who is currently pursuing a Master of Laws degree in corporate and insolvency law from Nottingham Trent University, England, promises to pursue what he coins as “a genuine project” to build the ULS House in Kampala through taking a clear route of accountability and commitment.
In the third pillar, Walusimbi focuses on inclusiveness, promising that he will ensure the exclusion of lawyers who are not practising in Kampala stops. Just like Karungi, Walusimbi has more than 10 years’ experience in practice and he says his administration will engage young lawyers more.
Young lawyers, according to Walusimbi, have felt excluded from benefits channeled from the East Asian Legal Studies (EALS) programme and International Bar Association (IBA) and he promises such and other grievances will be addressed if he is elected.
Semambo, the sixth contestant, despite repeated reminders, didn’t disclose his agenda