FORT PORTAL – The Principal Judge, Dr Flavian Zeija has said that he is much frustrated having found out that there is a problem with ICT support in every circuit they have visited.
“I want to know, where is the missing link? How can a court report the same problem for more 12 months and it’s not resolved?” the PJ exclaimed.
The PJ who was joined by the Permanent Secretary/Secretary to Judiciary, Mr Pius Bigirimana and the Assistant Inspector of Courts/PRO Jamson Karemani was in a meeting with Judicial Officers at Fort Portal High Court on Monday.
This was after several concerns were raised by Judicial Officers about poor IT infrastructure at different courts.
The PS/SJ promised to follow up the concerns with the Principal Information Technology Officer to ensure that they are handled.
Away from IT, Fort Portal Senior Resident Judge, Elizabeth Jane Alividza, highlighted that there is reduction in backlog, zero cases of loss of court files, prompt submission of monthly returns and high rate of completion of cases despite the lockdown. She attributed the success to routine staff and stakeholders meetings which has improved team work.
She thanked the PJ for the deployment of a second judge. “With a second judge (Justice Vincent Emmy Mugabo) posted, backlog will be history in this circuit,” she said.
There are 1,485 pending cases at the court of which 592 are backlogged.
Regarding challenges, the Fort Portal Chief Magistrate, Kaggwa John Francis, said there was serious understaffing, heavy workload, inadequate funds, staff illiteracy in basic computer skills, poor ICT infrastructure, insufficient furniture and equipment, insecurity, major repairs and replacement needs.
The PS/SJ acknowledged the heavy workload of Judicial Officers and commended their efforts in clearing backlog and caretaking other stations. He reassured them that the recruitment of Magistrates will be embarked on after that of Registrars and in consideration of the budgetary provisions.
The Fort Portal CM caretakes six chief magisterial areas of Kasese, Kamwenge, Kyenjojo, Ntoroko, and Bundibugyo. While the gazette structure requires 22 magistrates Grade One under this circuit, only eight are deployed there.
Regarding resources, the PS/SJ said most of the issues the institution faces such as underfunding to staffing will be solved by the operationalization of the Judiciary Act.
He urged the Judicial Officers to be proactive in resolving some of the challenges they encounter. He urged them optimally use operation funds to cater for minor repairs and refer major ones to headquarters.
Both the PJ and SJ stressed the fact that funding to all governmental entities for this Financial Year has been cut by 75 per cent.
The PJ and PS/SJ applauded the cleanliness and orderliness of the court premises. They recommended that court structures should not be varied in design.
Notably present was Judge Mugabo, Assistant Registrar Henry Twinomuhwezi, Magistrates Grade One; Elisha Arinaitwe and Mwesiga Dan.
During the tour of the Court, it was realized that the reception area had been converted into an office for the State Attorney. The Advocates room was turned into a holding cell for male suspects. Other areas toured were the Archives and registries where the PJ shared best practices of case management, archiving, exhibit storage and use of register books. It was observed that some of the toilets had no doors.
Kyegegwa Magistrates court
Prior to the meeting at Fort Portal High Court, the PJ had carried out inspections at Kyegegwa and Kyenjonjo courts.
At Kyegegwa, he was briefed by the resident Magistrate Grade One, Byamugisha Derrick on the numerous challenges of the court. These included the fact that the court is accommodated in a building where they are sandwiched between retail shops, a bar and restaurant.
The improvised holding cell is shared by both male and female inmates. The lone computer at the court is not connected to the internet and as such there is no CCAS. The court equally does not have enough furniture. The lack of formal banking services in the district often disrupts court business.
During inspection of the court registry, it was agreed that the Assistant Inspector of Courts gives the court a date when he can have hands-on training with staff on how to improve record-keeping practices.
HW Byamugisha thanked the PJ for his guidance. He equally took the PJ and his entourage on a tour of the land donated to court by the Town council.
The PS/SJ urged the Magistrate to identify better premises that can accommodate the court and make a report to headquarters.
Kyenjojo Magistrate Court
At Kyenjojo Court, a closed gate is what welcomed the PJ. Principal Magistrate Grade One, Mukanza Robert, apologized for this and quickly added that the main entrance of the court had been closed off by the district leadership. He said, the leadership claimed that court users who were using the footpath that snakes through the district offices were trespassing and were a source of insecurity. HW Mukanza said negotiations are ongoing with the Chairperson LCV to resolve the impasse.
The PJ then used an alternative footpath to access the court. While at the court, HW Mukanza went on to enumerate the other challenges of the court. These included lack of internet connectivity, understaffing, lack of transport to conduct locus visits and process service.
The Magistrate explained that the court, although gazetted as a Chief Magistrate’s court has never had a resident CM. That notwithstanding, he care-takes three other magisterial areas; that is Butiti, Bufunjo and Kyarusozi. All these are about 30kms to 70kms away from Kyenjojo town.
He thanked the administration for the new furniture but noted that they still needed more file cabins.
In terms of innovations, it was reported that Small clams Procedure which was launched early this year has been embraced by the community.
After the brief, the PJ toured the archives, registries and exhibits store. Thereafter, the PJ made a stopover at Butiti court which is housed by the town council. The town hall doubles as the court hall.
Apuuli Babigumira & Danielle Nalukenge