Case backlog: Appoint more judicial officers

Author: Micheal Aboneka 

What you need to know:

  • What the people of Uganda desire is justice to be dispensed and the same people are now requesting for more judicial officers to be appointed for proper administration of justice.
  • The deliberate refusal or delay to appoint judicial officers is delaying justice. 

The need to appoint more judicial officers is a song that has been repeated by many for the sake of dispensing justice unabated. 
This is in a bid to salvage the human resource shortage of justices, judges and magistrates. 

The call resurfaced at the swearing in of the new Chief Justice, where he pleaded for the appointment and recruitment of more judicial officers to clear the backlog for the dispensation of justice. 

The President, while attending the Annual Judges’ Conference in 2019, said recruitment of more judicial officers was not necessary rather their remuneration was the way to go.

It should be noted that our Constitution places citizens at the forefront of justice and the Judiciary under Article 126 (1) . 

What the people of Uganda desire is justice to be dispensed and the same people are now requesting for more judicial officers to be appointed for proper administration of justice. This is what it means by the judicial power deriving from the people. 

Further, Article 126 (2) (b) provides that “in adjudicating cases of both civil and criminal nature, the courts shall apply the principle; justice shall not be delayed…” This therefore means if there are not enough judicial officers to handle cases, justice will be delayed and justice delayed is justice denied, hence offending the spirit of the Constitution. 

It would also not be wrong to argue that the deliberate refusal or delay to appoint more judicial officers required is delaying justice and offending the Constitution, thus unconstitutional and perhaps we need to ask the courts to determine this issue.

To appreciate this matter further, attention needs to be drawn to the court statistics of cases visa vis the number of judicial officers. 

By 2019, the case backlog stood at about 36,009 cases, with the Land Division of High Court with 5,681 cases, Anti-Corruption Court (61), Commercial Court (5,454), Criminal Division (1,276), Civil Division 1,364, Execution and Bailiffs (2,832), Family Division (2,705) and 33 at International Crimes Division.
 There are 189 Grade 1 Magistrates, and only 32 Grade 2 Magistrates and 47 chief magistrates out of the desired 100. There are 60 judges out of the desired 82, 14 Justices of the Court of Appeal and 12 justices of the Supreme Court for an adult population of over 51.9 per cent. 

By these statistics, it would take one judge of the High Court to hear and dispose of 1,214 cases per year, which is humanly impossible.
 It has been reported as of August, Shs4 trillion is still locked up at the

Commercial Court as the backlog stands at 5,454 cases, which is an increase from 2019 and as a country, we are losing not only justice but suffocating the economy. 
Think about the pending cases, these represent at least one person at the minimum and this, therefore, means we have more than 72,000 Ugandans whose fate is in the hands of the courts. 

In light of this, the minister for Justice and Constitutional Affairs tabled a motion for a resolution in Parliament to increase the number of judges from 60 to 82 because the current number (57) was found to be inadequate. 

What is not known is whether this has ever been implemented. What then becomes of the authority of the Parliament if the Executive does not act? We need to follow up on this matter to the letter for the sake of dispensing justice to the people of Uganda without any delay.

Mr Michael Aboneka is a Partner at Thomas & Michael Advocates
[email protected]

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