Legal Committee to Reconsider National Legal Aid Bill
Parliament has returned the National Legal Aid Bill, 2022 to the Committee on Legal and Parliamentary Affairs for reconsideration.
This happened during the plenary sitting chaired by Deputy Speaker Thomas Tayebwa on Tuesday, 23 May 2023.
The bill moved by Kumi Municipality Member of Parliament, Hon. Silas Aogon had been tabled for Second Reading.
The bill’s second reading could not flourish after the committee report recommended that it is stayed because it has a huge financial implication on the Consolidated Fund.
“The committee finds that the Bill does not impose tangible, accountable and achievable obligations on government due to the limitations imposed on private Member's Bill under article 93 of the Constitution,” Hon. Yusuf Mutembuli (NRM, Bunyole East County) who presented the report said.
He added that, ‘the funding proposals in the Bill are not sustainable since they heavily rely on the goodwill of donors with little or no government involvement in funding legal aid services’.
According to the committee, government needs at least Shs47.6 billion annually to roll out legal aid services across the country which ‘cannot be funded through the funding proposals contained in the Bill’.
Article 93 of the Constitution restricts Parliament from passing bills or motions, unless introduced by government that imposes a charge on the Consolidated Fund or other public fund of Uganda.
In respect of the law, the Ministry of Finance, Planning and Economic Development is therefore, mandated to provide a certificate of financial implication before such a bill is processed.
The committee recommended that the Legal Aid Bill is ‘not read for a second time’ and that government undertakes to introduce a bill that guarantees a sustainable, accessible, affordable, credible and accountable legal aid system in Uganda.
. Aogon however, strongly protested the committee report saying the bill does not have any financial implication.
“This bill received a certificate of financial implication...therefore, it is officially recognized. I want to believe officers of government in the Ministry of Finance and Parliament know the distinction between what offends and does not offend Article 93 of the Constitution,” Aogon said.
Mutembuli interjected saying the certificate of financial implication was issued on the basis that the original bill that Aogon submitted for first reading did not have clause 25(g) which flawed the law.
He said it is until the bill was before the committee that they realised the bill had been ‘revised’ to include the contested clause.
Clause 25(g) of the bill provides money appropriated by Parliament as one of the sources of funding for purpose of legal aid.
The Attorney General, Hon. Kiryowa Kiwanuka sought time to harmonise with the private member to bring a bill which is sustainable for a purpose which Parliament wants to provide.
“Legal aid is not a bad thing at all; the issue that we have is that legal aid is an expensive function and as government, we need to be clear on how to sustain it…let us sit down with the private member and work through this bill properly,” he said.
Before returning the bill to the committee for reconsideration, Tayebwa said it is a bad precedent for a committee to shoot down a private member’s bill.
“If you have a problem with some clauses, why not remove those clauses? At committee stage, you can drop the clauses you are not comfortable with but not the entire bill,” he said.
The object of this Bill is to regulate the provision of legal aid services by legal aid service providers in Uganda, make provision for the grant of legal aid services to indigent, marginalised and vulnerable persons and to make provision for eligibility for the grant of legal aid among others.