Monday January 27 2014

Justice should not be commercialised

A Sunday Monitor report about a court that is under investigation for extortion is a disappointing development that should not, however, surprise Ugandans. The Judiciary should instead cast the net wider and institute stringent measures to rid the institution of corrupt officials who have made it almost impossible for ordinary citizens to get justice.
That Kasangati Magistrate’s Court is being investigated following various complaints that the court officials demand bribes and extort money from suspects in order to handle their cases, reflects badly on an institution that is supposed to, among others, handle corruption cases. The report by Anti-Corruption Coalition Uganda (ACCU), the NGO that carried out the investigation into the court’s activities, reveals cases where a clerical officer signs agreements with suspects compelling them to pledge that they will give the officer a commission of 15 per cent if the case is ruled in their favour!

As ACCU’s Cissy Kagaba aptly put it, courts should not be turned into a marketplace of commercialised justice. According to the ACCU findings, there are several reported irregularities dating as far back as 2011, with reports of litigants losing their bail refund at court, suspects paying for basic services such as translation of their testimonies and typesetting. Why should suspects meet court expenses?

While the ongoing investigation is a positive step, long-term measures to clean up the Judiciary is long overdue. The Kasangati case is not an isolated one. Irregularities and corruption cases are common in courts countrywide.

In the East African Bribery Index 2013 that found Uganda leading the East African region in prevalence of bribery, the Judiciary was ranked third most bribery-prone institution in the country after Lands and Police. Corruption is deep-rooted in this country and such reports should help us in identifying corrective measures.

The Judiciary is a particularly sensitive establishment where the core values of honesty and transparency must define the very nature of the institution at all times. Reports of corruption during the dispensation of justice only erode the confidence of the Ugandan public in the justice system.
The Judiciary should, therefore, educate the public to report cases of unfair treatment because it is difficult to eliminate corruption and uphold integrity if the public is not empowered to highlight corruption cases.