Lola and Doreen: there are more similarities between law school in Uganda and the UK than you think

Lola and Doreen: there are more similarities between law school in Uganda and the UK than you think

My name is Nyangoma Kagambe Doreen and I am in my final year in Uganda Christian University, Mukono. At the age of 10, I lost my father to diabetes. I come from a family of four children. My parents were both educated. Fortunately for us, by the time of my father’s death, he had left a valid will. It was read the day following his burial. However, the brothers to the deceased were very angry as they had hoped to benefit from his properties and investments. They tried to oppose the will and change it but they were warned that it would lead to imprisonment. Frustrated, they turned to mistreating my mother. They stole a lot of our property from the house, including household equipment of any kind and cattle. They sometimes sent threats but they all came to nothing. Fatherless, we ventured through this world with our mother unaided by many of our paternal relatives and friends to our father. However, my mother’s siblings were very supportive. My mum managed to protect our property and her children and educate us through primary school and university. She sold some of the cattle and small pieces of land to get the tuition needed. Rental arrears from different investment buildings were also used for the noble cause.

I am studying law to be able to protect my family and our property. I want to help protect similar widows and orphans. My discussions with many fatherless people have revealed that they had a similar experience to mine.

I was also graced to have participated in the plea bargain initiation project that took place in Western Uganda in 2016. It was a distressing experience, but I learnt so much. There are prisoners who claim to be innocent and their stories are heartbreaking. The common notion is that prisoners are guilty, but the question we rarely ask is, “why are they guilty?”.  These are the people who deserve justice. True, there are those unrepentant sinners. But this, should not go to hurt those who have repented. My team and I were able to get lesser sentences for some people. This is what makes me happy, when I see someone smile because of me! They have hope for a future out of prison – they start to count their days!

In addition, many of the prisoners lack the basic knowledge of the law. In traditional African culture, a girl is considered a woman as soon as she developed breasts and starts her menstrual period. This is usually at the age of about twelve years. However, at law, the age of maturity is 18 years and so many young men who have been in relationships with adolescent girls are imprisoned for defilement. Their defense, however, is that the girl consented to the sexual act and that they were in a relationship. The law makes defilement a strict liability offence, so there is no need to prove the intentions of the accused. This has contributed to the high number of defilement cases in Uganda. We have been able to teach young men some of these aspects. We offered them non-legal advice as well. For example, we explained the need to learn new skills in prison to show their relevance to society so that they can request early release where possible.

What I love about my degree is the fact that I learn about every area of law. It also helps me teach people about their rights and obligations and help them become better citizens of Uganda to bring back the glory and pride of the Pearl of Africa.

I have honestly enjoyed most of my classes in law school. I loved the criminal law classes because it was a passion of mine even before joining law school. I enjoyed the family law classes because they relate so much to me and my family and I loved the Alternative Dispute Resolution classes because they gave a solution to the problems in litigation and are an easier way to obtain justice.

I want to become a criminal or family lawyer and maybe an arbitrator. I also wish to become a judge one day!

My typical day starts at about 5:00am. I wake up to read till 6:30am. I prepare for my day and by 8:00am, I am in class. My classes run from 8:00am to 7:00pm, with a lunch break from 1:00pm to 2:00pm. I use my free time to do some personal reading.  I have group discussions every day of the week from 8:00pm to 10:00pm. I enjoy the discussions at the end of the day because they are interactive and I get to know some information that I may not have known. I also enjoy the classes because I get to ask questions when I have not understood and sometimes state my opinions where they differ from those of the lecturers.

My lecturer for criminal procedure, Miss Mutabingwa Annet inspires me during her classes. She is a confident lady. She explains the law so well when teaching. To me, she is a successful female lawyer in Uganda. She is currently the head of The Law Development Centre Bar Course in Uganda. She also inspires me because I have told by many of my friends that I look like her, so I tell myself,” I want to be like her!”.

In my opinion, Uganda is in a state of this poverty due to the poor enforcement of the law. Uganda has some good laws but they are not implemented. The Succession Act of Uganda gives the ownership of a deceased’s property to the widow(s) and orphans but there is a lot of politics involved before they can obtain their property. Also, the local masses sometimes do not know the law so they continue to break it. Corruption has also hindered the implementation of some laws where “justice” is paid for. Self-centeredness is affecting the quality of service delivery in Uganda. People who are in positions to accumulate wealth for themselves. Some of them are unfit to be the positions they hold maybe due to age or lack of qualifications.

This causes fear in me because I know that some of the positions that I aspire to hold may be unavailable to me for unjust reasons. My goal to render justice may be hindered by some of the above mentioned factors.

Poverty at the moment is being fought by mainly Non-Governmental Organizations. This is because many government projects have been a failure. For example the Universal Primary and Secondary Education intended to provide free education to the poor has very poor standards of education and has seen many children falling out of school. The National Agricultural Advisory Services (NAADS) program that was intended to provide better services to the farmers has had its monies embezzled and left little to support the projects. The NGOs have thus come to help alleviate poverty in Uganda. What do you think about these issues, Lola?

My name is Lola and I study law at King’s College London. I am studying law as I think that, although it is fundamental to know our rights and duties under a legal system, it can be very hard to understand it or even to know where to find this information. Too often I have found myself or others around me unsure about what possibilities we had and what were we entitled to.

With my degree, I hope to be able to correctly advise people about their rights in France or in the UK as I know this can make a real difference in someone’s life.

My favourite classes so far have been European Law and Criminal Law as these are two areas in which I am really interested in.

I am not quite sure about what I want to become yet, but if it turns out that I do want to practise law, I do know that I’d rather not be a commercial lawyer. What I value the most about having a career in the law is this relationship of trust and contact with clients which I am sure arises between the beginning and the end of a case.

A typical day at university is not very long as we do not have many hours of teaching. In fact, we have around 16 hours of teaching per week: eight hours of lectures, four hours of tutorials and two hours of seminars. So a typical day would involve around two or three hours of teaching. This seems like very little but my day does not end here: Because we do not have many hours in class, we are expected to work a lot by ourselves and thus have an important amount of readings and preparation of reading.

The freedom and autonomy we have is what I enjoy and what I struggle with the most. Although it gives a great amount of freedom as to how to manage our time and how to work, it can also be very hard to set your own deadlines.

Being from France originally, I am particularly concerned about two crucial issues: the presidential elections happening in May 2017 and the dramatic refugee crisis. Both of these issues are, I think, strongly linked to the law and motivate me even more to pursue a career in this area.

My first concern is the rise of the far right party with Marine Le Pen, who could potentially be elected in May. This would follow the dramatic events of Brexit in the UK and the election of Donald Trump in the US. Although I do not want to oversimplify this complex situation and phenomenon, I truly believe that one of many the reasons people are seeking alternatives in the far right is because they are fed up with the politics and with seeing the same people holding the power again and again and thinking they are above the law. As such, too many government agents and public figures have not been condemned for illegal activities or have being condemned to a much lesser sentence than what would have been required. I believe this is not acceptable and should be remedied as no one should be above the law, and especially not the ones supposed to govern and represent our country.

Further, I am extremely concerned about the situation of refugees in France. Indeed, it remains very unclear and uncertain how this issue is dealt with. Refugees often live in camps or in the street, and a lot of them now sleep in the streets of Paris. I am aware the situation is very complex and difficult to handle, but the police’s behaviour is simply not acceptable and cannot be justified under the law. For instance, many “operations” are now held in Paris to relocate refugees sleeping in the street in Paris during which their few belongings are confiscated, including their bags and important documentation. In a country that presents itself like the human rights’ defender, I cannot see how this can be considered as legal or justifiable and hope to be able to remedy situations like these in the future.