Snapshots from our Twins: Mathilde and Bruno
In 2016 and 2017, two sets of law students at King’s College London partnered with law students from the Uganda Christian University for an exchange of experiences. The aim was to facilitate a cross-cultural dialogue, exploring the differences and similarities in legal education and legal practice in the students’ home countries.
To kick off the new academic year, we are looking back on what they learned from each other. Students were asked to consider the concept of access to justice. What is it like to try to access justice in your country? What barriers do you face? What impact does an increased access to justice have on the alleviation of poverty?
In this, the first of two instalments on these issues, Mathilde and Bruno compare the UK and Uganda, discussing their experiences as students and future lawyers, and the barriers people face in accessing the justice system.
Bruno : I study at Uganda Christian University. It is one of the best law schools in Africa. I have really enjoyed my time at this university with its rich and well stocked library, fair school facilities like Internet rooms, Wi-Fi, professional lecturers, outreaching and brilliant multinational students, good reading environment etc.
Mathilde : I study at King’s College London, which is very similar in that it has everything we need to study in the best possible conditions. However, the other side of the coin is that tuition fees are high, and this is a challenge for most of the students here, many of whom have to take out a loan.
B : We face the same problem here! The University is private and slightly expensive for average-earning Africans. But the rest of the affaires at the University are fair. Here law school is tough with a high demand of reading and writing class notes. Is it the same for you? We are by the way preparing for our end of semester exams too, and we shall be starting on 18th April.
M : Indeed, law school here is also very demanding! Exams are approaching as well, so I start spending a lot of time in the library… But this will be worth it in the end, when we can finally be lawyers! Do you face any sort of barriers trying to enter the legal profession? In the UK, there are generally no such barriers. Nevertheless, since I am a woman, it sometimes makes things more difficult. Indeed, although equality is an important value in England, we still have a long way to go. Women are generally less well paid than men, and there are fewer of them in the big law firms or big barristers’ chambers. This is changing, however, and I hope that one day being a woman will not be a barrier anymore!
B : In Uganda, there many such challenges. The main ones are high tuition fees during law school which bars most of the people from trying it, long academic period spent in law school (we do four for the bachelors degree and one more year post graduate diploma in legal practice), highly rated academic qualifications to do law in most law schools, unnecessary pre-entry exams for the bar course, the conservative nature of the legal profession with its strict requirements and restrictions such as limited advertising of legal services which disables competitiveness of the legal profession with other professions and businesses, unnecessary requirements in the law firms such as compulsory subscriptions to law council and Uganda law society which becomes expensive for newcomers in the profession, and also the conservative social attitude among Ugandans that all lawyers are thieves which discourages many people from entering the profession.
M : That seems quite difficult indeed… On the contrary, in the UK, the legal profession is usually a well-regarded profession, which encourages many people to go to law school! As a result, there are many lawyers in the UK, and accessing justice is relatively easy, although often expensive. The justice is also very slow, which can sometimes discourage people from suing other people. This is however to be balanced with the facts that English judges are competent, and the legal process is well organised. People can ask for legal aid in order to help them pay the costs of justice, and there have already been some committees set up by Parliament to inquire about access to justice in the UK. This shows how important it is in the UK that everyone be given a chance to fight for their rights.
B : Accessing justice in Uganda is rather difficult. The system of justice in my country is not properly organised and has got weak and underfunded institutions such as courts of law, Human rights defenders and legal aid among others. The other challenges are; corruption among the judicial officers and the police, inadequate courts of law and judges to administer justice, political interference especially to members of opposition to the government who at times are unreasonably delayed to access justice, high expenses in hiring lawyers, illiteracy among the citizenry (a sizeable number of Ugandans are illiterate and therefore do not know their rights and forums through which they can access justice) etc.
M : I did not realise it was so difficult! This is a shame because in my opinion, access to justice is an important factor which can have a positive impact on the relief of poverty. Indeed, the more people have access to justice, the less people will be unjustly deprived from their money. Poverty in the UK is not always the result of bad personal choices. There are many instances were poverty is caused by unfair dismissals, frauds, lack of education… These kinds of situations could be avoided if access to justice was available to everyone.
B : I agree. Access to justice has got a great positive impact on the relief of poverty in Uganda. Access to justice ensures security of people’s property and enforcement of their rights to own and dispose of property like land. Land disputes are prevalent in Uganda and remain a big challenge to government yet land remains the backbone of livelihood for over 80 percent of Ugandans through agriculture. Many times poor people due to difficulties in accessing justice are unfairly deprived of their land hence aggravating poverty in the Country. However, with access to justice, people are able to guarantee security of their land, jobs and other properties hence alleviating poverty.
M : Overall, this shows how law is a powerful tool for the relief of poverty. This is one of the reasons why I chose to do law : the fact that law is useful, and is the best way to fight injustice. Although it is not always true in practice, I will always have this view that law could be the solution to many problems (poverty, but also environment, war…) if intelligently used. And this is not specific to the UK, it is also the case in Uganda, and in many other countries in the world.