The need to appoint more judicial officers is a song that has been repeatedly sang by many for the sake of dispensing justice unabated. This is in a bid to salvage the human resource shortage of Justices, Judges and magistrates. The plea seems to have fallen on deaf ears or chosen to be ignored. I have read, participated in development of various reports and one of the major observations about the Justice sector has always been case backlog due to lack of human resource to handle it. The same reports have always recommended for appointment of more justices, judges and recruitment of magistrates and other officers to facilitate the dispensation of justice in Uganda.
The call has re-surfaced again at the swearing in of the new Chief Justice where he pleaded for appointment and recruitment of more judicial officers to clear back log and for the dispensation of justice. It is almost two years now since the same call was made by the former Chief Justice and a few more judges were appointed at the end of 2019. The president, while attending the Annual Judges’ Conference in 2019, retaliated that recruitment of more judicial officers as not necessary rather their remuneration was the way to go.
It should be noted that our dear Constitution places citizens at the fore front of justice and the judiciary under Article 126 (1) which provides that “judicial power is derived from the people and shall be exercised by the courts established….in the name of the people and in conformity with law and with values, norms and aspirations of the People.” What the people of Uganda desire is justice to be dispensed and the same people are now requesting for more judicial officers to be appointed for proper administration of justice-this is what it means by the judicial power deriving from the people. Further, Article 126 (2) (b) provides that” in adjudicating cases of both civil and criminal nature, the courts shall apply the principle; justice shall not be delayed…” This therefore means that if there are not enough judicial officers to handle cases, justice will be delayed and justice delayed is justice denied hence offending the spirit of the Constitution. It would also not be wrong to argue that the deliberate refusal or delay to appoint more judicial officers required is delaying justice and offending the constitution thus unconstitutional and perhaps we need to ask the court to determine this issue.
To appreciate this matter further, attention needs to be drawn to the court statistics of cases visa vis the number of judicial officers. By 2019, the case backlog stood at about 36,009 cases with the Land Division of High Court with 5,681 cases, Anti Corruption Court 61, and Commercial Court 5454, Criminal Division 1,276, Civil Division 1,364, Execution and Bailiffs 2,832, Family Division 2,705 and 33 at International Crimes Division. Worth to note is also the COVID-19 pandemic whose lockdown affected the adjudication of the cases in Court and yet the registries remained open receiving new cases.
There are 189 Magistrates Grade 1, and only 32 Magistrates Grade 2 and 47 chief magistrates out of the desired 100, 60 Judges out of the desired 82, 14 Justices of the Court of Appeal and 12 justices of the Supreme Court for an adult population of over 51.9%. By this statistics, it would take one judge of the High court to hear and dispose of 1,214 cases per year which is humanly impossible. It has been reported as of August 2020, 4trillion shillings is still locked up at the commercial court as the backlog stands at 5,454cases which is an increase from 2019 and as a country, we are losing not only justice but suffocating the economy. Think about the pending cases, these represent at least one person at the minimum and this therefore means that we have over 72,018 Ugandans whose fate is in the hands of the courts. This is justice delayed and offends the spirit of the Constitution that Justice should not be delayed.
Article 138 (1) (b) of the Constitution enjoins Parliament to increase the number of judges as may be necessary. In light of this, the Minister for Justice and Constitutional affairs tabled a motion for a resolution in Parliament to increase the number of Judges from 60 to 82 because the current number (57) was found to be inadequate. What is not known is whether this has ever been implemented? What then becomes of the authority of the Parliament if the Executive does not act? We need to follow up this matter to the latter for the sake of dispensing justice to the people of Uganda without any delay.
I therefore urge the Appointing authority to prioritise this issue and appoint more Justices and Judges and also cause the recruitment of more Magistrates and other officers in order to dispense justice to the people of Uganda. The Judicial officers too need reasonable remunerations and motivation for the good work and it is important that both revision of remuneration and appointment of more judicial officers should happen cheek to cheek.
Partner:Thomas & Michael Advocates| Director: Envirogreen Trust Ltd| Member: World Youth Alliance| Chair Working Group (Regional Integration for Economic Development)-Young African Activists Network (YAAN)
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