Access to Justice – a mission trip to East Africa
News article published on: 19th September 2019
I recently had the opportunity to travel to Rwanda and Kenya with the Lawyer’s Christian Fellowship (LCF). Our trip involved visiting projects run by a Rwandan charity called Lawyers of Hope, as well as running legal training sessions for students, lawyers and community paralegals who are members of Lawyers of Hope’s membership.
The majority of our stay in Rwanda was spent in the capital Kigali. Rwanda is a beautiful country known for its stunning scenery and aptly named “The land of a thousand hills”. We travelled through the magnificent hills on one of our visits to a partner project about two hours from the capital. It is run by one of the community paralegals, individuals who are trained up by Lawyers of Hope to provide legal advice and training in their local communities. Often times, people don’t have the transportation, the time or the resources to obtain legal advice, so this work is critical to ensuring that every day people are able to learn about and assert their rights.
A lot of the work of the Lawyers of Hope focuses on Family Law, Land Rights and Succession Law. I was personally struck by their story of one family who told of how they had been unlawfully evicted from their home because of an unresolved dispute. Fortunately, Lawyers of Hope heard about their circumstances and were able to step in to provide vital legal assistance so that the family could regain possession of their home. The family were so grateful for the support and assistance of the Lawyers of Hope and it highlighted the real impact and effect of their work on the lives of ordinary people.
Another key aspect of the trip was running legal training sessions. I was involved in running a session for the student members of Lawyers of Hope to encourage them in their journeys to becoming lawyers and to provide some practical tips and strategies on how to strive for success in their careers whilst not losing sight of their drive and motivation for entering the profession.
A member of the UK team who is a criminal solicitor ran two engaging sessions on interviewing vulnerable witnesses. I assisted another member of the team, an experienced Employment Lawyer, in a two day training session on comparative labour law for members of the Rwandan Bar Association. Having the opportunity to visit the partner projects in Rwanda and to be involved in the legal training was such a unique and exciting experience, and one that I will never forget.
My trip to Kenya
The second part of our trip was spent in Kenya. First we travelled to Nairobi for a weekend conference where we met lawyers from Rwanda, Burundi, Kenya, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda and Mozambique who are all part of the LCF’s CLEAR partnership, which supports access to justice projects across East Africa. During the conference we learnt about practical methods of running an NGO or charity that provides access to justice projects.
The final week was spent in Mombasa where we attended the Advocates Africa conference. We met lawyers from across Africa, as well as from the USA and Asia. I attended some very engaging and thought-provoking sessions, one of which was on “Transitional Justice – a Rwandese Experience” led by the highly experienced Rwandan lawyer Safari Gahizi. Another very interesting panel discussion on “Access to Justice” was led by Justice Mike Chibita, the Director of Public Prosecutions in Uganda and Mhairi Hamilton, the Director of International Projects at the LCF. The conference was a fantastic opportunity to network with lawyers, judges and law students and learn about their experiences of studying and practicing the law in their respective jurisdictions.
It was truly a privilege to attend the Advocates Africa conference and to have had such an eye-opening experience in Rwanda. The trip highlighted the challenges that ordinary people face in accessing justice, but it also reinforced the important work of organisations such as Lawyers of Hope who step in to redress the balance and provide vital legal assistance to those in need.
Gemma Salmon, Paralegal, Personal Injury Department.