Assessment of Legal Information Needs and Access Problems of Lawyers in Uganda

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Introduction

Unresolved legal problems can entrench disadvantage and increase social exclusion unless legal assistance is made available to members of the community (McClelland, 2009). "As a lawyer, and even more so as a local member, I have met a number of people who have been unable to address a small legal problem before it escalates. Often this is because they don't know what to do or where to go", (McClelland, 2009) asserts. Legal information is considered one of the essential ingredients for effective justice to be done in any democratic society. In our day-to-day life, legal issues have become part and partial of our environment. The ever-increasing number of legal cases in the country has enormously led to petitions in court by various people with hope that they will be backed up by lawyers. However, it is worth noting that timely access to the right kind of legal information determines the performance of any legal officer in any judicial process. It is on that basis that this paper examines the legal information seeking behavior of the legal practitioners, the lawyers in Uganda.

Conceptual Background

A lawyer is a person learned in the law as an attorney, counsel or solicitor, a person licensed to practice law. Working as a lawyer represents the practical application of legal theory and knowledge to solve real problems or to advance the interests of those who retain (i.e. hire) lawyers for legal services. The role of a lawyer varies significantly across legal jurisdictions and therefore can be treated here in only the most general terms (Blacks Law Dictionary, 2004). Generally as noted by Fowler (2007), Lawyers work primarily in the legal culture, with its extensive rules and procedures requiring the right kind of legal information. Lawyers operate in information intensive environment. Everything they do, whether providing legal advice, representing a client in court, or drafting a legal document requires information (Otike and Mathews, 2000).

According to Ademola (1994), the legal profession is a highly book reading profession. The importance of information to a lawyer is reiterated by Bello (1994). He argues that books are the tools of trade of the legal profession. Thus, of all the professions, law has the largest collection of books because a well-stocked reference law library is important to a lawyer, as well as to the judge in administration of justice. A lawyer will always make a poor submission if he does not refer to legal authorities, and a judgment will not be as rich without referring to previously decided cases as authorities. Makri (2008) observes that Law is a highly knowledge-intensive domain and obtaining accurate and up-to-date legal information can mean the difference between winning or losing cases.

Legal information is therefore paramount to the success of the judicial system. Okello-Obura, (1998) defines legal information as the requirement or right established by law, which resides in all electronics and written records. The history of legal information or literacy in Uganda can be traced right from the colonial days when Uganda was under the imperial rule of Britain. Britain issued four African orders in council for most of her African protectorates in 1894. These orders in council established a system of governance that among other things established a legal system. In Uganda the major order in council was the 1902 one which introduced a dual legal system. This system, as Harvey (1975) states, allowed the native institutions based on customary law to exist only with the colonial legal system only if the customs were not repugnant to justice and morality or inconsistent with any order in council ordinance. Since then, legal information has continued to be produced by academicians, lawmakers and government, calling for an analysis of its usage by the consumers.

The Issue at Hand

Many practicing lawyers fail to articulate cases and provide proper back up to their clients in the courts of laws which compels one to ask whether it is lack of competence or lack of reliable legal information. …