Earlier this month, Hassan Male Kiwanuka Mabirizi won the hearts of Ugandans with his bold submission contesting the manner in which the constitution was amended to have the presidential term limit scrapped as well as the parliament and president tenures increased from five to seven years. This was during the on-going age limit case hearing at the Constitutional Court in Mbale.
Mr. Mabirizi opted to represent himself in the courts of law at the Age Limit hearings in the Mbale constitutional court. He appeared well informed and his law qualification was an added advantage that equipped him with knowledge enough to stand up for himself in the courts of law and submit with eloquence so much so that many could not believe he was not an Advocate himself.
For the general public, this should serve as inspiration that in some matters, one can chose to represent him/herself just as Mabirizi has done.
WHAT IS SELF REPRESENTATION?
In simple terms, “Self Representation” means a person going to Court and representing him/ herself instead of being represented by a lawyer. It can apply to both Criminal Cases e.g. theft or Civil matters e.g. breach of contract, failure to pay rent etc.
Self-representation comes in handy sometimes because in Uganda, unlike other countries, the government only pays for lawyers when it comes to serious offences called Capital offences e.g. murder. In other cases, no such right exists and so a person might need to get a private lawyer, or do self-representation.
Uganda, unlike other countries, does not have an office of a Public Defender, this means in other matters that are not punishable by the Death sentence, one is not entitled to a Lawyer provided for by the state. However, a number of Legal Aid service provider organisations do offer such services depending on the matter at hand.
WHY YOU NEED TO EDUCATE AND INFORM YOURSELF ABOUT THE LAW:
The law is like a condom. It’s always good to have it nearby because you never know when you will need it. That is why everyone needs to educate themselves about the law and take time to understand court processes.
A FEW TIPS FOR SELF REPRESENTATION:
1. Do not be afraid. Everyone in court is a person just like you. Some might look threatening, others might look funny but at the end of the day, these are people just like you.
2. Be prepared and always have your evidence and facts correct, otherwise you will be torn apart by the other side, especially if your opponent is being represented by a Lawyer.
3. Relax! Do not panic! It’s your tax payers’ money that built and sustains the court, and your Constitutional right as a Ugandan to seek Court redress.
4. While in court, behave. Do not abuse the Magistrate or Judge. Switch your phone off. Do not let your tempers get the best of you, like that other man who almost strangled a Magistrate to death because he wasn’t happy with the decision that was made.
5. Do not be afraid to ask for or seek advice from those that might be able to help. In court, the Magistrates, Court clerks and other officials usually come in handy.
6. Most importantly, always have photocopies of your court documents e.g. court receipts etc.
7. To the judicial officers, please be kind to self-represented litigants. Educate, guide and inform them on the law, and court process if need be. This way, an increased number of people will be able to have access to justice.
It is also commendable that the Justices in the Court of Appeal made it possible for Mr. Mabirizi to get his message across by guiding him accordingly during the proceedings, unlike in some court rooms which can be very intimidating especially to the self-litigant.
A MESSAGE TO JUDICIAL OFFICERS:
We encourage courts to be friendlier towards the self-litigant and not exhibit an air of hostility towards them. This will encourage people to learn more about the law and consequently use it to their advantage.
At the end of the day, everyone can get justice because the courts will then appear less intimidating to the ordinary man.
Remember, ignorance of the law is no defense and if you need legal guidance, please get in touch with BarefootLaw on 0392 177405.