MBARARA – From the plains in Mbarara to the hills of Kanungu and Kisoro, the Principal Judge, Dr Flavian Zeija, has reached every Court established by the Judiciary in the greater Mbarara and Kabale areas.
On his last leg of inspections in the West, the PJ accompanied by the Assistant Inspector of Courts and PRO, Jamson Karemani, took a two-hour bumpy ride from Kabale town to the hills of Kanungu where they were received by the Kanungu Magistrate Grade One, Mukobi Asanasio. The Magistrate took him through a detailed report of the court’s performance and outlined a number of challenges faced by the court.
The Court, which is supported by four support staff, has a total of 573 matters pending before the Magistrate Grade One. Of which 313 are criminal in nature.
HW Mukobi pointed out that the court lacks enough staff and does not have enough reference materials. Although there is a solar system at the court, it is ineffective as it keeps breakdown. In terms of juvenile justice, the nearest remand home is in Kabale which is far from the magisterial area, and transporting them is a challenge.
As a way of managing congestion at the prison, he reported that a plea bargain session had been organized where so far, 65 accused persons have expressed interest.
In terms of access to Court, HW Mukobi said there was a challenge of access to Court especially by litigants in far off sub-counties such as Kihihi, Rutenga and Rugyeyo among others. On why the people from Kihihi are not served from there, it was reported that the court currently only handles civil matters.
During the inspections, it was noted that the Court was in need of repairs. The paint is peeling on most of the walls and the surrounding walls have developed huge cracks.
To serve the public, all registration is done through a window. As a best practice, the Magistrate was encouraged to ensure that the court diary indicates names of parties as well as their case numbers. HW Mukobi was commended for ensuring that all fixed cases are within a month. The court had an exhibit register to indicate what is in the store. There is no internet connectivity and as such only a manual register is kept.
In the archives room, there are five shelves with one dedicated for Kihihi files and the rest for Kanungu. The Magistrate was encouraged to organize chronologically according to their years of completion to allow easy retrieval.
To best understand the set-up of Kihihi court and its facilities, the PJ took another 45 minute drive to Kihihi town.
Kihihi Magistrate’s Court
Although the town council has offered land for the construction of a justice centre, the Court is still housed by the town council. The Court, which was previously Grade II Court, started operating as a Magistrate Grade One court in 2018. It operates in a small room that acts as the magistrate’s chamber, registry, store, among others.
Court sessions are held in the Town Council Hall only on Wednesdays. The lone staff at the Court is a clerk who assumes all the other duties to ensure that the Court remains operational.
The computer and files in the room are the only property Judiciary owns. The rest of the furniture belongs to the town council. During the inspection, the PJ was informed that the state attorney who had been posted to the town was recalled because of lack of transport and office space.
The PJ met the Town Council Engineer and another official and thanked them for their generosity toward Judiciary. He was thereafter taken to Ndeeba Cell, Kihihi Town Ward, Kihihi Town Council to inspect the land donated for the construction of court premises, office of the Resident State Attorney and Police.
Rukungiri CM Court
From Kihihi, the PJ took another two-hour drive to Rukungiri CM Court where CM Hussein Ntalo, Magistrates Grade One, Ngamije Mbale Faishal and Namukasa Hamidah welcomed him.
In his detailed report, HW Ntalo reported that between October and June, the Court had collected revenue amount to Shs36,486,300. He reported that the Court had a total of 1,482 pending matters.
Adding that although the magisterial covers has nine courts, Buyanja, Kebisoni, Bungagari, Bwambara and Ruhinda are not operational. Among the challenges noted was non-payment of additional guards given to the CM as well as inadequate staff. Further, as a result of Covid-19, access to court by litigants has proved hard since many use boda boda to access Court.
Few ODPP staff that have made it hard for courts such as Kihihi and Nyarushanje handling criminal matters. HW Ntalo said it was important for the land allocated for the construction of a High Court to be developed. On the issue of transport, he shared that his vehicle had worn out, a reason it is always in the garage.
The CM requested for alternative power back up system due to intermittent power supply. additionally, the CCAS system needed an overhaul and as such the Court relies on manual registers alone. The court doesn’t have a photocopier and any work that requires printing and internet usage is done at commercial internet cafes.
During inspection of the court premises, the Judicial Officers were encouraged to take interest in exhibit stores which are usually neglected. As a best practice, it was recommended, that the store be annually cleaned up and a stock-taking exercise carried out. The PJ tipped the CM and his team on best record keeping practices both in the registry and archives to improve retrieval of files.
The last court to be inspected was Nyarushanje Magistrates Court. The court is housed in an old dilapidated structure. The furniture supplied by the Judiciary for the court is being used by the sub-county since there is nowhere to keep it. The PJ was taken on tour of the land allocated for construction of court premises. The PJ was informed that the Rukungiri Mayor had given the court some paint to give the structure a new coat.
In all the areas reached, the Officers commended the PJ’s efforts in reaching all the courts under his supervision wherever they are located.