On Wednesday, The Observer published some unsettling details from a report on the conduct of magistrate’s courts across Uganda (See: Report exposes graft in courts).
Although the country may be getting used to complaints about corruption especially in lower courts, the report by the Anti-Corruption Coalition made for chilling reading.
Aptly titled “Temples of Injustice”, the report portrays a court system akin to a market where justice (or rather injustice) is on sale, with the higher bidders standing a better chance of sealing buys. We see court clients who are at the mercy of court officials, as opposed to being clients served with utmost regard to the traditions of service to the tax-paying public.
We see magistrates who are some sort of gods that even bring lawyers to their knees. Some of these complaints about specific courts have been around for a while now, and as the report points out, it is disturbing that no tangible action seems to have been taken.
Obviously – lest it be forgotten – there is a lot of good work being done by honest judicial officers at various levels. We commend those officers for upholding their ethical values. The Judiciary administration has also not been sleeping. Indeed the report makes reference to magistrates who have been prosecuted for corruption.
These are steps in the right direction. However, the report’s findings seem to suggest that the problem is more rampant that previously thought. If no drastic action is taken in these magistrate’s courts, we are in danger of having deviant exceptions becoming the rule, the anomaly turning into the norm.
And because magistrate’s courts are the courts of first recourse for the majority of Ugandans, what goes on in there has huge potential shape perceptions of – and therefore boost or blunt faith in-the entire judicial system.
We urge the leadership of the judiciary to tackle graft in magistrate’s courts the way health authorities would approach a deadly epidemic. A robust mechanism to consistently isolate and prosecute more rogue court officials would help to salvage the integrity of the courts, and strengthen our democracy.
Source : The Observer