Today has not been business as usual at Uganda’s courts as most of the courtrooms across the country have remain deserted marking the first day of another sit-down strike by judicial officers.
Prison authorities were forced to return suspects to prison this morning with no magistrate prosecutor or judge in sight to attend to them.
But for one ‘political detainee’, the day has ended well after Hellen Ajio of Mubende Magistrates Court side-stepped the ongoing industrial action and released him.
William Ntege a.k.a Kyuma kya Yesu, regained his freedom a few minutes before 4 p.m. after Ajio fulfilled her pledge to grant him bail this Friday.
The last time Ntege was before her, she had said she would let him go if the State again failed to show up.
“When we arrived at court, there were no judicial officers around so we were taken back. While on the bus back to prison, I was so excited when a production warrant was handed to prison officers. The magistrate released me on grounds that the State no longer has interest in the case,” Ntege told PML Daily.
“I thank the magistrate for having a parental heart, of defying the ongoing strike, to make it here (court) purposely to attend to my case. I am so grateful,” an excited Ntege said upon release.
Earlier in the day his lawyer, Tom Gaway Tegulle had posted a complaint: “Empty courtroom in Mubende today. Visited the Mubende Prisons at Kaweeri and found prisoners in bad mood at going to court and finding no judge. Many who should be going home will keep in for a long while.”
Tegulle had gone to Mubende Magistrates Court to represent Ntege, who has been on remand for over a month for allegedly assaulting Kasanda MP, Simeo Nsubuga.
The last time Ntege was in court was on Wednesday, however, his bail application fell through as the prosecution didn’t turn up for court.
Magistrate Hellen Ajio said she has given prosecution up to Friday (today) to appear before her and if they failed, she would grant Ntege bail.
Unfortunately, she too is among the officers who did not turn up for work today.
“Police is also sweating because it cannot present suspects in court to take plea. As for lawyers who earn from court appearances…….” Gawaya added.
The judges, registrars and magistrates are striking over what they call poor welfare and low salaries.
They are demanding for salary increments and other benefits including security, medical insurance and housing allowances.
The judicial officers want the highest ranking officer (Chief Justice) to earn a monthly salary of Shs 55 million, in parity with pay in public offices of similar distinction, and for the lowest ranking judicial officer (Grade Two magistrate) to pocket at least Shs 11 million.
This is the second time in a period of two months that business has come to a standstill at Ugandan courts.
This first time was in June when all state prosecutors, including the Director of Public Prosecutions laid down their tools due to low salaries.
These, however, resumed duty after government committed in writing to increase their salaries. That promise has, unfortunately, not come to pass, hence the stay-away until further notice commencing today.
It is still not known when the strike is to end.
The president of the Uganda Judicial Officers’ Association Godfrey Kaweesa said the strike is indefinite until a general meeting is reconvened for judicial officers to deliberate on the next course of action.