Masaka Service Centre is located at the Masaka High Court on the outskirts of Masaka town, central Uganda. At Masaka Service Point, the Manager, Mr. Timothy Mugumya, welcomed the media team. There was an opportunity to interact with various JCU staff and clients who were waiting to be served.
Masaka High Court is typically a busy court with litigants from far and near. At the legal aid service point, men and women waited their turn to be served by JCU staff. From interactions with clients, it was revealed that the majority of cases relate to land matters. Mr. Mugumya informed the media team that JCU had devised creative mechanisms in resolving land (and other) disputes through mediation, which had proven to have a high success rate.
All the clients interviewed by the media team reported high levels of confidence and trust in Justice Centres Uganda. They appealed to government to increase the reach of these service points to villages since many may not be able to afford transport to town (to report cases to the Masaka service point).
During the visit, we also interacted with the coordinator of Justice for Children (J4C) programme whose office is located at Masaka High Court. She praised the good coordination and collaboration that exists between JCU and J4C especially in providing legal representation to vulnerable children who are found to be in conflict with the law.
During a meeting with resident the High court judge at Masaka High Court, Hon. Justice Eudes Keitirima, the media team had a opportunity to interact with him on issues of justice and the rule of law. Justice Keitirima said the value added to the court by Justice Centres is immense due to its contribution in decongesting the court system (through referals to the service point for mediation). He said that the legal aid policy once passed by Government will ensure this value addition is extended to every court in Uganda with the potential to positively and fundamentally change the access to justice landscape.
On his part, Chief Magistrate at Masaka Chief Magistrates Court lauded Justice Centres for ensuring the smooth slow and court processes. He was referring to the fact that Justice Centres lawyers are always on hand to represent those without counsel in court thereby speeding up the process and avoiding delays.
Later on in the day, the media team visited Ssaza Government prison facility about 5 km from Masaka town where we were welcomed by the Prison-In-Charge. At the prison facility, the media team was in the company of officials from Masaka Justice Service Point and the Paralegal Services. During the visit, the team interacted with inmates who had an opportunity to air their views and concerns on issues.
During the visit, we found that many of the inmates were on remand and there was a significant number who claimed to have no legal representation. Officials from Masaka JCU Service Point and and paralegal services pledged to identify those in need of lawyers and arrange representation after assessments are done in cooperation with the prison authorities.