Court­room space frus­trat­ing ad­min­is­tra­tion of the Ju­di­ciary

By: ISAAC OKELLO

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.

Uganda High Court
Aerial view of the High Court. High Court is one of the few buildings that are owned by the Ministry of Justice. The rest are rented out.

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.