KAMPALA–Although the Universal Declaration of Human Rights proclaims equality of all human beings before the law, Uganda is short of effective, inclusive and accountable Judiciary, the Chief Justice Bart Katureebe has revealed.
Presenting a keynote address at the Commonwealth Magistrates and Judges Association Conference at the Bank of Tanzania Conference Centre today, Katureebe said the justice system remains elusive especially to the vulnerable and marginalized persons. He blamed this on institutional and other challenges among which include limited funding.
“The primary objective of the Judiciary is to provide a mechanism for peaceful settlement of disputes through a rule based settlement mechanism, where aggrieved persons have a level playing field to present and argue their cases before an impartial judge / tribunal instead of resorting to extra judicial methods that predate the rule of law,” he noted.
However, this has been hampered by various challenges; Internally, the Judiciary faces the challenge of delay in disposing of cases, corruption both real and perceived, high prison congestion, increasing case load, among others.
“The justice system has the highest levels of inequality with the rich using the fast track system as the poor ride on the slowest track littered with delays and corruption. It should not, therefore, surprise us that public confidence in most Judiciaries remains far below acceptable standards.”
“It is a common fact today that there is a two track system in the administration of justice. The first track is for the rich and privileged while the second track, which is the slowest, is for the poor and most disadvantaged.
“Discrimination of the poor is also compounded by the absence of a comprehensive legal aid
regime for the indigent. Study after study have found that the absence of legal aid violates the right to a fair trial and undermines the administration of justice, especially for the poor.”
And against that background, Katureebe said Uganda’s judicial system has come up with several measures to see that justice is fairly dispensed to all people.
“The public is concerned about the high cost of accessing justice and most Judiciaries are, therefore, seeking ways to bring down the cost of accessing justice for 90% of the population in the developing world who cannot afford a lawyer .
“In order for us to create an inclusive judicial system, we must address barriers which the poor and vulnerable face in accessing the courts. The first point of call is to sensitise the poor and vulnerable to use the justice system. Secondly, the poor must be given a voice, so that they can raise and claim their rights.
“Thirdly, the procedural rules for accessing the justice system must be simplified. Where necessary, we must endeavor to limit the number of laws one has to contend with to pursue a claim in court.”
He further added that Legal aid must be provided for the indigent and, where possible, legal advice should be provided at the point of entry into the legal system for people to make
The justice sector is also undergoing rapid changes made possible by advancements in management, technology, democratization, rising levels of social consciousness supported by cross fertilization of legal principles and best practices within the Commonwealth and the world at large.
“We have introduced performance targets for all judicial officers.
All Judges with delayed and pending judgments have been asked to take leave to write their judgments. This is intended to eliminate delayed judgments, which have been a source of discomfort and sometimes, a concern for the public, who imagine that the court is delaying judgment with the hope of getting a bribe.”
They have as well adopted a systematic way of engaging all stakeholders on a monthly and biannual basis.
“At a monthly level, all the JLOS actors at a district level meet with the civic leaders and local leaders to discuss removing impediments to the administration of justice using home grown.”