Chief Justice Alfonse Owiny-Dollo has asked Members of Parliament to raise the value of cases handled by Grade One magistrates.
Justice Owiny-Dollo reasoned that the law currently allows Grade One magistrates to handle disputes with a face value not exceeding Shs20m, which is very small for the court.
“Given the escalating inflation levels and the current market values of products, it would appear that very soon, magistrate courts may have no work. An average motor vehicle goes for about Shs50m while a second hand one, goes for Shs30m yet the bulk of judicial officers, who are Grade One magistrates, can only handle disputes of up to Shs20m,” he said.
The Chief Justice made the remarks while addressing members of the Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Committee, who had paid him a courtesy call at the High Court in Kampala, on Thursday
To that effect, the Chief Justice urged the MPs to support the cause to amend the Magistrates Act and increase the face value of the disputes that Grade One magistrates can handle to more than Shs20m.
“An amendment to the Magistrates Act to enhance jurisdiction of magistrates court will inevitably enhance access to justice and reduce backlog which stood at 44,523 cases out of a total of 154,7666 cases pending as of April 28. We shall need your support on this,” CJ Owiny-Dollo said.
The chairperson of the Legal and Parliamentary Committee, Mr Jacob Oboth Oboth on behalf of fellow legislators present at the meeting, pledged to support the implementation of newly-enacted Administration of Judiciary Act to enable the Judiciary realise its mandate of being an independent arbitrator.
“My lord, for long, realising that you are an arm of government, I think you need space to breath and the law has given that to you. Previously, you were being treated like a department under the ministry. The members here are willing to support the budget of the Judiciary all the way,” Mr Oboth said.
The Chief Justice also outlined projects that the Judiciary intends to do this judicial calendar year and request the MPs to support the said outlined projects, reasoning that they will bring justice nearer to the people, hence contributing to fulfilment of Vision 2020.
Construction of Justice Law and Order Sector (JLOS) house in Naguru to accommodate High Court Divisions in Kampala, operationalisation of Luweero High Court, construction of Mpigi, Rukungiri High Court circuits and construction of Grade One Magistrate Courts at Maracha, Bunyangabu, and Namayingo are some of the priorities for the calendar year.
Justice Owiny-Dollo also revealed that their enhanced budgetary proposal of Shs800b to President Museveni, has since been approved.
He said it is out of the Shs800b that they will recruit four justices of Supreme Court, 16 justices of the Court of Appeal and 33 judges for the High Court if they are to tackle the current case backlog.