Busia court reopens after 10 years

An official walks in front of the dilapidated premises that used to house the Grade II Magistrate’s Court in Lumino, Busia District, prior to its closure in 2013. PHOTO/DAVID AWORI  

What you need to know:

The Grade II Magistrate’s Court in Lumino, like others at that level countrywide,  was closed in 2013 after being phased out in a judicial review process that declared them incompetent

For seven years, Mr Peter Makenzi, a resident of Busubo in Buhehe Sub-county, Busia District, has been walking to Busia Magistrates’ Court in search of justice.

Mr Makenzi said he filed a case after his land was trespassed on, but since 2016, the case has not been disposed of.

“A man constructed a house on my land on which he continues to farm yet the court is taking its time to have the case disposed of,” Mr Makenzi said at the weekend.

 “I had to drop my lawyers due to the long distance over which I had to transport witnesses to court and cater for their welfare, including meals,” he added.

Mr Makenzi, who is among several residents of Busia District who have endured challenges of delayed justice, partly due to case backlog and issues of accessibility, will be among hundreds of beneficiaries as the judiciary reopens the court in Lumino.

The Grade II Magistrate’s Court in Lumino,  like others at that level countrywide,  was closed in 2013 after being phased out in a judicial review process that declared them incompetent.

At the time, such courts were being presided over by diploma holders, who were described by the proponents of the phase-out as “laymen who were totally incompetent to preside over judicial matters”.

The courts were phased out because the magistrates who presided over the lower courts reportedly had limited criminal, civil and territorial jurisdiction to hear cases. As a result, the move aimed at professionalising the judicial system. It was further argued at the time that in the reforms, the judicial system would empower local council courts to handle cases previously heard by the Grade II magistrate courts.

The court has now been reopened as a Grade One magistrate’s court.

Justice Henry Kawesa, the Tororo High Court Circuit Judge, who presided over the reopening of the court,  said:“We have a challenge of people who move long distances from Lumino and neighbouring sub-counties, all the way to Busia Town, to seek court services which we think is too far.”

According to Justice Kawesa, once a judicial officer is deployed at this court, it will reduce the case backlog at the Busia Chief Magistrate’s Court.

He further revealed that in the interim, the court will be housed in the district local government premises in  Lumino Town Council as they wait for renovations of the court’s premises, which are dilapidated.

Constructed in the 1930s, part of the court’s roof collapsed and the walls have developed cracks. 

“This Courthouse is too old; we want to see whether the whole roof and part of the walls will be removed and constructed afresh,” said Justice Kawesa.

The facility, which started as a British colonial County Court in 1939, was upgraded to a Grade II Magistrate’s Court until its closure in 2013.

Mr Thomas Okoth, the Busia Chief Magistrate, said the court will be operational as soon as the district avails space.

Mr Ereneus Barasa, an elder, remembers Lumino Court as being central in handling cases of land, domestic violence, and murder in Samia County before and after independence in 1962.

He said: “When Samia became a County in 1930, nine years later, Lumino Court was opened by the colonial administrators under the sub-county community court system to handle a number of cases in the area.”

Mr Michael Kibwika, the Busia Resident District Commissioner (RDC), said he is optimistic that the reopening of the court will bring services closer to the people, adding that they are embarking on sensitising locals about its importance.

Mr Charles Wandera, a resident of Lumino, said the court will help in solving cases of petty crime that are rampant among the youth in the area.

Mr Dauson Ojambo, also a resident, said: “This court is a step closer for us to push for the creation of Lumino District.”