KAMPALA – Dr Roswitha Kremser, the Head of Office of the Austrian Embassy, paid a courtesy call on the Ag. Chief Justice, Alfonse Chigamoy Owiny-Dollo to discuss matters regarding access to justice.
Dr Kremser shared the different programmes that the Austrian Development Agency is funding that will improve the administration of justice.
She said Austria as Chairperson of the Development Partners Group, have focused their efforts on case backlog management and pretrial detention.
Dr Kremser said Austria was contributing £2million (about Shs9bn) over the next two years through United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) for dedicated Sexual and Gender Based Violence Court sessions. She added that a similar amount had been earmarked for the institutionalization of a Gender Violence (GBV) Court, a project which they are studying in partnership with UN Women.
The Austrian Embassy boss said she is happy about e-justice project that is in the offing. “There are plans to pilot at least six e-justice Court Sessions for GBV cases. E-justice is an important issue and also a personal priority,” she said.
On the issue of pre-trial detention, she said many proposals have been fronted such as digitalisation of lock-books to ensure that the 48-hour rule is adhered to.
Dr Kremser said they have equally engaged the Police and it had been agreed that the Police Planning Unit makes proposals which they believe will reduce pre-trial detention.
She expressed concern that more than 4,000 people were arrested during the lockdown. “…And this 4,000 compared to the 833 who were pardoned now increases the number of people incarcerated.”
Dr Kremser further shared issues regarding human rights violations especially during the COVID-19 lockdown. And the inability of the Uganda Human Rights Commission to hold tribunals due to the lack of a substantive chairperson.
On the upcoming elections, she emphasized the need to balance health concerns and expression of freedoms. The other concern raised was the need for legislation on Legal Aid.
The Ag. Chief Justice thanked Dr Kremser for the issues raised especially during the lockdown. He pointed out that the Judiciary still struggles with numbers of Judicial Officers which has impacted timely disposal of cases.
That notwithstanding, Justice Owiny-Dollo said the Judiciary had come up with several e-justice innovations such as the Electronic Court Case Management Information System, video conferencing among others all aimed at expediting court processes.
He pointed out that there have been challenges of low absorption of budgets and late commencement of implementation of programme activities as a result of late disbursement of funds.
“Funds for the core activities of the Judiciary should come direct…we should be able to access those funds instead of having to wait for the end of the second month in the quarter when JLOS releases funds.”
On the issue of the proposed scientific elections, the Ag Chief Justice said, “I agree an election must not only be lawful it is more important that it is legitimate. You have to balance between the fear of Covid and the need for freedom of assembly and expression.”
Dr Kremser promised to follow up to find out why timely disbursements are not made. She equally agreed on the need for direct projects with the Judiciary.
Further, she said next year they are considering taking some Ugandan Judges on a benchmarking visit to Austria on areas regarding SGBV and gender issues.
The Ag. Chief Justice commended efforts of Development Partners by setting up justice centres so that Ugandans have access to justice.
Dr Kremser thanked the Ag Chief Justice for making time for the engagement and asked him to add his weight on the different justice issues highlighted.