Judiciary struggling with manpower shortage

In this part of our series on the justice system, three bigwigs in the Judiciary give us an insight into the sector, with higlights on the major challenges faced.

Wednesday June 11 2014

Supreme Court judges led by Justice Benjamin Odoki (R) take their seats in court to listen to the case of the expelled NRM ‘rebel’ MPS last year.

Supreme Court judges led by Justice Benjamin Odoki (R) take their seats in court to listen to the case of the expelled NRM ‘rebel’ MPS last year. PHOTOS BY ABUBAKER LUBOWA/ AISWAL KASIRYE 

By Emmanuel Mulondo & Anthony Wesaka

My Lord, what do you consider to be the reasons affecting justice delivery in our country?

For the Judiciary the major challenge is the personnel. Do we have sufficient number of judges? Do we have sufficient numbers of magistrates? Are these numbers well deployed in the areas where there are disputes? The answer is no. We have been working our way towards 60 judges. We have always estimated that may be the ideal number would be 80 but we are still far from that number.

Two, the Supreme Court did not have enough judges in terms of numbers. In the beginning they were supposed to have seven and for a very long time it had four, hardly enough to make the quorum to hear major constitutional appeals. Now we have tried to raise the number to 11, which is a good beginning. But sadly, they are not yet eleven because one of the judges, Amos Twinomujuni passed on sometime last year and even before that, they were nine. So that leaves a gap of three vacancies.

The other big thing is the welfare and remuneration of these people. Take the magistrates for example. They are spaced out in a big geographical area. Forty chief magistrates, with 120 districts, means on average each is in charge of three districts. This is a big geographical area. In principle they are not facilitated with transport and it is quite a challenge.

How about other players in the game? Say the prisons. They were all built 50, 60 or 70 years ago. The structures are run down.

When you come to the police, they are not well trained. If the accused person reaches court the challenge is to nail that accused person but because of gaps in investigations court may acquit somebody who should not have been acquitted, or convict where there should not have been a conviction.

Then you go to lawyers. Sometimes there are black sheep in the fold. We have such big numbers from law schools and this could also be affecting the quality of training both at the law schools and the Law Development Centre. I don’t think the teacher-student ratio is that good. When you have 200, 300 students in a class, then you are looking for disaster.

There’s another challenge which is systemic. Lawyers are trained to battle it out. It is a battle and is called the adversarial method of justice. The judge sits in the middle and the lawyers for both sides, each on one side, ready to battle. Traditionally, that may be what was meant to be but the end result it is very lengthy, very costly, emotionally charged, antagonises the parties rather than bring them together, and sometimes you wonder whether it is really justice. We have to make a radical change.

My lord you have talked about many problems. In your view, are any of these surmountable?
Many of these are surmountable but they have budgetary implications. We have to come to appreciate as a nation, that the Judiciary is a fundamental part of governance. Unless and until we appreciate that the Judiciary has enough resources, then we shall continue having these impediments to delivery of justice.

In Luzira prison, there’s a facility for young convicts, the young convicts are trained to better their lives, even to go to school – secondary and lately university, that is only Luzira. But in principle our prisons should be like that – rehabilitate individuals so that when come back to society they can be better people.

The police only look at the poor conditions they are living in, the barracks. These translate into the kind of investigations they do, the kind of security, public order, safety and so on. Training should be ongoing because new laws are always coming up, our judges should keep abreast with these. But all the issues I am talking about have budgetary implications.

There’s a big problem of corruption and abuse of authority in the lower echelons of the bench. Maybe it is the poor welfare forcing them into this.

These are professional people we are talking about, who have taken an oath to do a good job. If you are lax in that, you cannot give me an excuse of not having a car, not having a good library and so on. We are talking about a magistrate who reports on duty on Tuesday and vacates his station on Thursday - that is indiscipline. A magistrate who engages in corruption or in any form of abuse should have no excuse. If you have excuses and you feel you are not being remunerated for what you are doing, the door is wide open – go and look elsewhere but if you think you are going to stick in the judiciary then be loyal to your oath because you took an oath to do justice to all manner of people without fear or favour. I know not all judicial officers are doing this. There are wonderful judicial officers doing a good job but there are few who are errant, who are rogues.

My Lord you have your clients, the public. What should they do to fight for their rights and also help you achieve your goals as an institution?

I want to call upon my clients, the public and all those institutions in the judicial sector to do one big thing. And that one big thing is, don’t shout about corruption in the judiciary. Resist it as an individual. It is not easy especially when you have a case and the magistrate stands between you and success. But don’t cave in. When you cave in then don’t blame the magistrate.

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