Uganda has been dragged to the East African Court of Justice (EAC) by a regional body for blocking Lawyers trained in Rwanda from practicing in the East African country, despite regional protocols that allow nationals of East African Community (EAC) partner states to ply their trade in any of the countries.
The development is the latest in the disagreement which emanated from a High Court in Uganda earlier this year ruling that lawyers with a legal practice diploma from Rwanda were not eligible to enroll for practice in the country due to differing law regimes.
The ruling infuriated the legal fraternity in Rwanda who said the move was against the spirit of regional integration which allows free movement of people and labour.
Now the Initiatives for Peace and Human Rights (iPeace) – a Rwanda-registered Non-Governmental Organization that focuses on legal matters in the Great Lakes and Eastern African region has sued the Ugandan government in EACJ, seeking the regional court to force Uganda to reverse the decision.
“iPeace notified the Attorney General of Uganda about a case this organization filed yesterday before the East African Court of Justice against the Attorney General of Uganda for denying lawyers trained in Rwanda from enrolling and practicing law in Uganda,”
“This case stems from the decision rendered by the High Court of Uganda on 13 may 2020 where M. Andrew Bataamwe was ruled ineligible for enrolment as an advocate in Uganda because he holds a Post Graduate Diploma in Legal Practice from Rwanda, considered as a country practicing civil law system,” a statement from the organisation released Wednesday reads.
According to Dr. Elvis Mbembe Binda, the Legal Representative of iPeace, this ruling is based on a legal provision of the Ugandan Advocates (Amendment) Act, 2002 that is contrary to the letter and the spirit of the Treaty for the establishment of the East African Community.
“Through the Treaty and the Common Market Protocol, EAC Partner States including Uganda committed to mutually recognize the academic and professional qualifications granted, experience obtained, requirements met, licenses or certification granted, in other Partner States as a way to facilitate the free movement of workers from one country to another,”
“In relation to legal professionals, the Republic of Uganda committed to remove all restrictions in its laws by 2010. Therefore, any provision in Ugandan laws subjecting legal practice in Uganda to the obtaining of a degree or diploma from Uganda or from a ‘Common Law’ country is a violation of the EAC Law”,” Dr. Mbembe Binda said
The organisation said that the Treaty for the establishment of the EAC promotes the free movement of goods, persons, workers, services, and capital between the partner states without any kind of discrimination.
It said that the implementation of this Treaty and its protocols has been encountering resistance from Partner States since a while following tensions between some of them.
iPeace said the case is filed within its public interest litigation framework that the organization uses to advance human rights and equality, or raise issues of broad public concern.
“iPeace considers this case as a way to remind Partner states their treaty obligations and to ensure that EAC laws are effectively implemented across the Community for the benefit of all East Africans,”
“Although this case is about the freedom of establishment of lawyers, the ruling of the East African Court of Justice will have an incidence on the implementation of the free movement of workers in general and on the enjoyment of related freedoms and rights enshrined in the EAC Treaty that many Partner States tend to overlook,” the body said.
Initiatives for Peace and Human Rights describes itself as a public interest non-profit organization that strives to enhance the culture of peace through human rights and good governance education.
The organization’s mission is to equip communities and individuals with human rights and good governance knowledge and skills to build a global culture of peace. It is registered in Rwanda, Burundi and DRC with support offices in Belgium and the Netherlands.
The petition was received by the EACJ Sub-Registry in Kigali on June 29.
Earlier this year in March, the High Court in Uganda ruled against an application filed by a Ugandan lawyer challenging a decision by the Uganda Law Council to deny him the right to practice despite obtaining a diploma in Legal Practice from the Institute of Legal Practice and Development (ILPD) in Rwanda.
The licence was denied on grounds that Uganda uses common law while Rwanda practices civil law. The argument has been dismissed by legal experts in Rwanda, who argue that the training system in Rwanda is hybrid, allowing ILPD-trained lawyers the flexibility to switch between civil and common laws.
Earlier this year, Didas Kayihura, the Rector of ILPD, dismissed the ruling by the Ugandan court, terming it as unreal because the institute trains lawyers in both the civil and common law.
Kayihura said that ILPD recruits lecturers from Uganda, Kenya, USA and other countries for that purpose and Rwanda-trained lawyers are allowed to practice elsewhere without any hindrance.
Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Kenya, Tanzania and South Sudan are member states of the East African Community.