Samantha Hirst of Ridley and Hall Legal Limited talks about her work with the Huddersfield Law Society Uganda Twinning Group (HLSUTG)
What is the name of the scheme which you participate in and what does it entail?
Since 2002 the Huddersfield Law Society and the Uganda Law Society have successfully engaged in a twinning programme known as the Huddersfield Law Society Uganda Twinning Group (HLSUTG). Since the programme started we have provided over 5000 legal books which have been used by legal professionals and students in the Ugandan Law Society’s main resource centre in Kampala, and in satellite resource centres attached to the High Courts . In 2015 I went to Kampala with three other group members to provide training sessions and workshops to over 250 Ugandan lawyers. I presented on client care, professional standards and time management. Other members of the group focused on business development and financial management – the twinning committee provide this training every year.
Years of civil war in Uganda has left thousands of children alone and vulnerable. In 2015, the group successfully secured funding from the Law Society charity which provided a two year programme in Patongo, Northern Uganda, to enable children in conflict with the law to have appropriate advice. A legal officer and assistant are employed at the Patongo Vocational Training Centre (funded by Comic Relief), alongside teachers and psychosocial advisors to give legal advice and representation. Being part of the group also involves organising and supporting fund raising events like curry nights and softball competitions.
What benefits do you think the scheme provides to those who receive the services?
I saw in Kampala what incredible benefits the scheme has done throughout the years. Seeing resource centres crammed with legal text books that the committee had sent, and students using these resources to aid their studying was great to see. Lawyers in Uganda are not required to do two years training and a lot of them set up their own practices after university. When I spoke to some of these sole practitioners they described the training sessions as invaluable to their practice, and continue to attend the training so they can use some of our advice and tips to grow and improve their businesses and client services.
What benefits do you get from participating in the scheme?
It is a fantastic opportunity for me to be involved in the HLSUTG. Going to Uganda and speaking in front of my peers was both extremely daunting and rewarding. It was an experience I will never forget and hopefully I will have the chance to do it again! Personally, it was not just about me sharing my knowledge and experiences but meeting other lawyers, talking about their work and legal system and the challenges they face.
Going to Africa is the tip of the iceberg, and a lot happens behind the scenes in order to raise funds and awareness of the programme. We have regular meetings which has meant I have formed close relationships with other local lawyers.
What do you enjoy about the scheme and what do you find challenging about the scheme
I enjoy being a part of a scheme which truly has made, and continues to make, a difference to people’s lives and communities. The awareness of the twinning group continues to grow and we recently won the pro bono award at the Yorkshire Legal Awards 2016. We were also highly commended at the National Law Society Awards. The current challenge is securing funding so these projects can exist in the future.
What is the importance for you in doing pro bono work and why would you encourage others to get involved
The law being only accessible to the rich is a distressing thought. In an ideal world the law should be available for all, but with the infamous legal aid cuts I do worry about the future and that the more vulnerable in society will not have access to justice. Although it is not reasonable to suggest that pro bono work bridges this gap, it almost certainly gives you the chance to make a difference. Helping someone, no matter how big or small, whether it be in your local community or half across the world, it is extremely fulfilling.