Courtroom space frustrating administration of the Judiciary.
Chapter 8 of the Constitution of the Republic of Uganda establishes the Judiciary for the administration of Justice in Uganda. Article 128 thereof advocates for the independence of the judiciary and that no authority shall interfere with courts or judicial officers in the exercise of their judicial function. To realise effective administration of justice, Parliament is mandated to make laws providing for the participation of people therein.
On that note, the Judicial Administration Bill drafted in 2012 has been before cabinet since December 2013. It is intended to provide for the efficient and effective administration of the judiciary, so as to establish structures of administration, to provide for employment and disciplinary control of employees, the funds of the courts, training, and inspection, rationalization of its judicial independence and for other matters connected thereto. This Bill would effectively operationalise chapter 8 of the 1995 Constitution of the Republic of Uganda but one wonders why it has been delayed for more than three years.
The Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs, Hon Kahinda Otafire while appearing before the sessional committee on legal and Parliamentary affairs on 20th April 2015 was put to task by the members of the committee to without delay, bring before Parliament the Judiciary Administration Bill 2012 to address the concerns of the judiciary for efficient administration of justice in the country. He promised to act on the Bill and see it introduced at the same time as the Constitutional Amendment Bill, 2015. Members suggested that if the Ministry of Justice does not come up to present the Bill before Parliament after it resumes, it will be introduced as a Private Members Bill.
However, there are several other issues that Parliament needs to concern itself with during this budgeting period, notably, is the issue of courthouse. The Chief Justice of the Republic of Uganda, Hon. Justice Bart Katureebe in his maiden interface with the Committee of Parliament on Legal and Parliamentary Affairs on 21st April resonated the need to have the Judiciary in one building, just like Parliament is. He noted that the High Court building which was constructed in 1936 was meant to accommodate 6 judges, but today, there are so many judges sitting at the same building.
53% of Court houses throughout the country are housed in Judiciary owned buildings while the rest of the courtrooms are either rented premises or building of local administration in the respective districts. The Court of Appeal in Kampala is renting a building where there is a bar on one floor, a bank on another and a restaurant on the other. The security of the judicial officers in such circumstances cannot be guaranteed.
The Supreme Court is renting space on a building which does not take cognisance of persons with disabilities (PWDs). A person with physical impairment may need to be carried to the subsequent floors in case he or she has a matter to attend to since there are no lifts in the building. However, with the construction of a judicial building, such matters can be looked into and addressed accordingly.
Annually, government appropriates money for the rent of premises and in the preceding financial year, 2014-2015, the Judiciary was allocated Ugx 7.247 bn. The idea that government is renting office space from private individuals is incredulous. Some ministries have for long been in the same place for so long that it is implausible to think otherwise about the ownership of such buildings. If such amounts were allocated to construction of court houses and adequately utilised, it would save taxpayers a lot.
During the meeting with the committee on Legal and Parliamentary Affairs, the Chief Justice pointed out under unfunded priorities for the financial year 2015/15 that the Judiciary needs to construct 5 courts annually at a unit cost of Ugx 1.2 billion per court, and this will require a total of 6 billion. Within three years, the government would have constructed 15 court houses and saved billions of shillings that is currently being spent on renting from private individuals. Government needs to obliterate the culture of renting premises for its ministries and focus on construction of its own to avoid unnecessary expenditure.
There is a shortage of judges, magistrates and registrars in Uganda to help with the backlog of cases in the country. There are 3 vacancies in the Supreme Court, 33 vacancies in the High Court, 18 in the Magistrates Court and a shortfall of 23 registrars. The money spent on renting facilities would be saved for remunerating such appointed court officers to improve access to justice.
Parliament is mandated to appropriate funds to different ministries and departments as per Public Finance Management Act 2015. Over the years, the judiciary which is the 3rd arm of government has received no more than 0.6% of the national budget annually and this has hampered any developments in the sector. Government ought to look to improve service delivery in the judiciary by finalising the Judiciary Administration Bill 2012, increasing funding to the sector, construction of court houses throughout the country, and appointment of new Judges, Magistrates and Registrars.