Principal Judge Yorokamu Bamwine, has denied claims by a local daily that Judges are on strike and that Judiciary has closed several courts over poor funding.
Instead, according to Bamwine, judges met on Friday, March 22, and made recommendations that ‘High Court circuits should be closed until the Judiciary gets adequate resources to operate them.’
On Monday March 25, Daily Monitor published a lead story under the headline “Judges close 20 courts to protest low funding” in which it quoted a source as saying that the Judiciary “…resolved that instead of having many circuits upcountry which are not fully operational, they should close them and come back to their colleagues at the Kampala divisions”.
Of the 20 upcountry stations, paper says, 14 are operational and of those, Jinja and Mbarara have two resident judges while the rest have only one resident judge.
During the Friday meeting, the judges advanced four reasons for the need to close the circuits. These included among others poor facilitation, human resource and infrastructure challenges and loneliness.
“Resident judges feel inhibited in terms of association. Being at upcountry stations alone (without professional colleagues) makes them feel lonely, yet the nature of their job makes it hard for them to freely fraternize with just anybody,” the statement, issued on Monday reads.
“So it’s not true that 20 courts have been closed. It was a recommendation, which may be accepted or rejected by the Judiciary administration and the government…It will be considered by Judiciary’s Planning and Development Committee and if the Committee supports it, then the next move will be to advise the Chief Justice on the possible closure of those courts,” Dr Bamwine added.
The Judiciary operates eight specialised divisions of the High Court that are based in Kampala, and it has 20 gazetted High Court Circuits (branches of the High Court outside Kampala). The decentralization of the High Court that led to the creation of the Circuits started in 1998.
Only 14 of the Circuits (Arua, Fort Portal, Gulu, Jinja, Kabale, Lira, Masaka, Masindi, Mbarara, Mbale, Mpigi, Mubende, Mukono and Soroti) are operational. The six Circuits of Hoima, Iganga, Luwero, Moroto, Rukungiri and Tororo have not been operationalised due to lack of funds, infrastructure and human resources.
Besides, only Mbale, Gulu, Masaka, Kabale and Masindi High Court Circuits have structures customised for a High Court — the other circuits are either resident in structures of magistrate courts in the areas or operate in rented buildings.
“We created circuits with the hope that we would have a minimum of two judges per circuit. That was the standard, but as we talk only three out of 20 (Jinja, Mbale and Mbarara) have two judges,” said Dr. Bamwine. He said the implementation of the March 28, 2018 Parliamentary Resolution, that increased the structure of the High Court judges from the current 51 to 82, is long overdue.
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