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Uganda endorses measures to improve access to Justice

Commonwealth Ministers in Zanzibar. Under these measures, law ministers resolved to ramp up efforts to remove barriers to access to justice and address the legal needs of all citizens PHOTO URN

Zanzibar, Tazania | THE INDEPENDENT | Commonwealth countries, including Uganda, endorsed a new set of measures at the Commonwealth law ministers meeting in Zanzibar, designed to improve people’s access to justice.
The measures were the result of four-day deliberations among law ministers at their biennial meeting in Tanzania. They were also guided by input from diverse stakeholders, including people with disabilities, civil society representatives and leading innovators in the legal sector.

Under these measures, law ministers resolved to ramp up efforts to remove barriers to access to justice and address the legal needs of all citizens.

The theme of the meeting was ‘Technology and Innovation: How digitalization paves the way for people-centered access to justice.’

Key provisions include improved access to justice for people with disabilities, a model law on virtual assets, a new action plan to protect women from online violence and a proposal to eliminate gender-discriminatory legislation.

Ministers also welcomed an array of new Commonwealth legal resources, including a mediation guide, a small claims court app for dispute resolution and a database for cooperation on criminal matters. Additionally, they adopted the Commonwealth guidelines on the treatment of electronic evidence in criminal proceedings, designed to offer member countries a framework to craft national legislation.

To support the implementation, ministers requested the Commonwealth Law Ministers Action Group to report progress at the next meeting.

The package summarises the outcome statement issued by ministers, representing one-third of humanity, at the end of their meeting on 8 February 2024.

Speaking after the meeting, the Commonwealth Secretary-General, The Rt Hon Patricia Scotland KC, said the measures were “absolutely critical” because two-thirds of the world’s population lack meaningful access to justice.
“Our discussions have been purposeful, our decisions have been meaningful, and our powerful new consensus allows us to take the next giant steps forward towards equal access to justice, in modernised legal systems, across our wonderful Commonwealth,” she said.

She said there is a need to ensure justice for all is the lived experience of every one of the 2.5 billion people living in our Commonwealth.

The ministers recognised the Secretariat’s tech-driven justice solutions and its work on artificial intelligence as important interventions in improving access to legal information and transforming justice delivery in today’s complex world.

The Secretariat also presented several papers in the field of energy and extractives, including a carbon tax model law and an oil and gas decommissioning guide, which leverage legislation in efforts to tackle climate change and deliver a just transition.

The Secretary General urged member countries to harness, understand and master the benefits of technology and innovation in breaking down barriers of cost and complexity and delivering legal systems which can meet the justice needs of all.

Law Ministers received from the Commonwealth Secretariat a Model Law on Virtual Assets which complies with the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) Recommendation 15 which requires Virtual Assets Service Providers (VASPs) to be regulated for anti-money laundering and countering the financing of terrorism (AML/CFT) purposes.

Law Ministers also received a meeting paper on Ensuring Access to Justice for Persons with Disabilities in the Commonwealth. Law Ministers were invited to strengthen national laws to ensure that they align with international standards for the protection of persons with disability.

Law Ministers received several papers in the fields of energy and extractives which highlighted the work of the Commonwealth Natural Resources Programme to assist member countries to responsibly manage natural resources and the energy transition for present and future generations. The papers included the Commonwealth Carbon Tax Model Law and Field Development Plans (FDP)

Hosted by the United Republic of Tanzania from 4 to 8 March 2024, the meeting was chaired by Hon Ambassador Dr Pindi H. Chana, the country’s Minister of Constitutional and Legal Affairs, who commended the substantive outcomes.

Officiating the closing ceremony on 8 March 2024, H.E. Hussein Mwinyi, President of Zanzibar, said he was pleased to note that the meeting recorded a number of achievements, which challenge us to undertake reforms in an effort to ensure that justice is accessible to all.

“I am aware of efforts that the Commonwealth countries have taken to shape its agenda on the rule of law and access to justice. It is high time that you made the same efforts on access to justice through digitisation.”   The outcomes from the meeting will shape the agenda for the upcoming Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Samoa later this year. The next meeting will be hosted by the Government of Fiji in February 2026.



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