The idea of Street Law was conceived at George Town University in Washington DC, USA in 1972.It was born out of the need by academic staff in the University’s law school to give students practical legal skills in the course of their legal studies. To achieve their objectives, the staff asked law students to begin providing legal aid to indigent juveniles arrested and detained at police stations in Washington DC. The exercise was a resounding success that was subsequently turned into an examinable subject and students were given grades. The students in the company of their lecturers would move to the police stations and advise juvenile offenders on how to prepare their defenses on being charged in court. In some cases they helped secure the release of the juveniles from police stations. The students would advise the juveniles on their rights to bail and how to conduct themselves once in court. The approach enriched the student’s theoretical knowledge with practical skills while benefitting indigent members of the community. After registering success at the University, the programme formed an organization known as Street Law Inc. (USA). Among others, one of the objectives of Street Law Inc. was to spread the programme outside the environs of Washington to other cities in the US and beyond.
After the resounding success in the US, the University introduced the programme in other countries in the continents of South America, Europe, Asia and Africa. The programme has had tremendous success in South Africa where it is hosted by the University of Natal.
The idea of street law was introduced to Uganda in 1993 by Street Law Inc. when a team of three representatives visited Uganda with the intention of initiating Street Law programme in Uganda. During the tour, they visited Federation of Women Lawyers in Uganda, (FIDA), Legal Aid Project of Uganda Law Society (LAP) and the Human Rights and Peace Center of the School of Law Makerere University where they discussed the idea of Street Law in Uganda. On a follow-up programme, some selected staffs from those Institutions were taken to the USA to study more closely the idea of Street Law. The present Executive Director of Street Law Uganda was one of those who benefitted from the study tour.
On their return from the USA, the team formed a loose network to implement Street Law programmes in Uganda tailored to the needs of Uganda. Seed money to begin Street Law activities in Uganda was provided by Street Law Inc. with funding from Ford Foundation. The loose network was challenged by organizational dynamics that affected its operations since organisations tended to concentrate on their core activities than on Street law work. To overcome this challenge, it was decided that Street Law activities could be best implemented by an autonomous organisation rather a loose coalition. Hence the formation Street Law (Uganda) in 2000.