Assessment of legal information needs and access problems of lawyers in Uganda.

Author:Tuhumwire, Innocent


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. On various occasions, Lawyers petition against the unfairness of judges in judging cases, and the question is whether these lawyers have or access the right legal information to defend their clientele in courts of law. Despite the legal institutions like Faculty of Law Makerere University, High Court of Uganda Library, Uganda Human Rights Commission Library, Uganda Law Development Centre and other private institutions and NGOs' efforts to provide legal knowledge and ready access to legal information to practicing lawyers, little is known in the areas of the lawyers' legal information needs, problems hindering access to legal information and strategies that can be adopted to improve legal information access in Uganda. A lack of knowledge regarding what potential users want makes it difficult for the information providers to provide suitable services for them (Toner 2008). This study thus intends to address those three core issues regarding legal information provision in Uganda.


The objectives of the study were to:

* Establish the legal information needs of lawyers in Uganda

* Determine problems lawyers face in accessing legal information

* Propose strategies to improve on access to legal information by lawyers in Uganda

Literature Review

The basis of a professional knowledge is information. The concept of legal information/literacy has had wide coverage from different scholars but mostly those who advocate for human rights. There are basically three types of legal information, which include:

Public legal information

The information contained here includes laws that govern relationships between the citizens and the state of those within the state. Examples include criminal legal information and constitutional legal information. This type of information can also be referred to as administrative legal information.

Private legal information

This information governs the relationship between citizens, this includes various relationships people have with one another and rules that determine the rights and duties among themselves. Private legal information basically addresses legal matters concerning rights of citizens and how they are supposed to leave with each other under the law. Examples of this include family legal information, inheritance legal information, business legal information and tort legal information (Okello-Obura, 1998)

International legal information

As the term suggests, this is information that covers relations among nations within the legal framework outlined by international governing bodies such as the United Nations.

Legal Information Needs and Seeking Behaviour of Lawyers

Information-seeking is important for lawyers, who have access to many dedicated legal information resources. Otike (1997) argues that the legal profession, just like the members of the general public, requires legal information. The scope of each practice determines the specificity of legal information needed for ready reference and research. Lawyers need to understand the law to enable them to perform the various challenges presented to them in life without worrying about going against. Lawyers, for instance, solicitors, seek information in order to assist in solving legal cases and in order to keep abreast of the law (Kidd, 1978). Legal information helps to create awareness of how the law works and how justice is administered.

According to Otike (1997), legal information is basic to all, both lawyers and non-lawyers. Parliament does not enact laws for the exclusive use of lawyers...

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