Saturday April 19 2014

Help the Judiciary administer justice

The State should save the bench. The Judiciary is ill-staffed, stressed and sluggish to effectively enforce the rule of law. Jinja High Court circuit alone is chocking on 800 backlogs of criminal cases and needs 10 years for the cases to be cleared up.

Indeed, the State should pay serious attention to the Judiciary. Jinja resident judge Godfrey Namundi has only 20 magistrates to serve an average 5,000,000 court users in Busoga sub-region, Mukono, Buikwe, and Kayunga districts.

Namundi convenes a High Court criminal session twice a year and resolves only 40 cases in each session. This implies only 80 of the 800 criminal cases are heard in a year. The Jinja circuit requires 50 magistrates but has only 20 judicial officers and a judge. Even Principal Judge Yorokamu Bamwine’s pledge to send another judge to reinforce Mr Namundi won’t adequately quicken delivery of justice yet more cases are often referred to the High Court.

This shortfall of judicial officers risks delayed trial of hundreds of suspects, congesting prisons with high rate of entry that outstrips exits from the prisons. This also levies a secondary burden on Uganda’s taxpayers to support the huge number of inmates in Uganda’s prisons.

Mr Bamwine, and the Judicial Service Commission are aware of the unacceptable situation. Acting Chief Justice Steven Kavuma is as well aware of the perennial challenge of case backlogs. Mr Kavuma’s admission to recurrent slow and poor administration of justice before judicial officers at Mbale Resort Hotel on Monday demands a quick solution. Government should quickly appoint a substantive Chief Justice to effectively oversee the institution.

Recent recruitment of more judges and magistrates by the Judicial Service Commission are commendable but more needs to be done. The State should cut away non-productive but costly administrative structures to finance critical manpower in the administration of justice. Government should downsize the bloated number of Members of Parliament, Resident District Commissioners, and the team of presidential advisers. We should echo Mr Namundi’s plea to Mr Bamwine. Indeed, leaders in government know about these challenges. But Mr Namundi’s plea should be resounded. Uganda should have more judicial officers to clear the backlog of cases countrywide.