Time to Review Judiciary Budget [editorial]

During the Uganda National Journalism Awards gala last Wednesday, chief justice Bart Katureebe made a passing remark about The Observer.

He said there was a story in that day’s edition of the newspaper, which he liked very much, and it is a story worth returning to today (See Low funding breeds tension in the judiciary, The Observer).

The story explored simmering tensions in the judiciary, related to management of finances. It showed that some judicial officers were dissatisfied with the way money was used, but con- cluded that the root cause of the problem was the inadequate funding of the sector.

For instance, although the judiciary sent in a budget request of Shs 332 billion, the envelope from the executive contained only Shs 77bn. This was supplemented by Shs 8bn from donors, to make a total sector funding of Shs 85bn. This means the judiciary got 25.6 per cent of the money it needed to meet its objectives. It can’t recruit enough judges and can hardly do much of the infamous case backlog.

We are aware that money is never enough but clearly, the executive arm of government should be trying to meet the judiciary further up the road – rather than ‘quarter-way’.

Significantly, our story also explored feelings among judicial officers that even the small bud- get that the sector gets needed to be spent better. There was an attempt to separate money going directly into case adjudication from that going into facilitating the officers and offices of the judiciary.

Obviously this disaggregation was contested by the judiciary management, who said that even those other ‘operational’ costs were also case adjudication costs. And one has to cede their point: travelling abroad, holding conferences, renting offices, buying refreshments for judges or paying night allowances for their travelling drivers are integral to the functioning of the judiciary.

But while we demand that the government treats the judiciary better, it is worth noting that the voices calling for a more rational approach to budgeting in the judiciary came from among judges and magistrates. That is a significant amount of smoke, and the chief justice and his team need to get to the fire beneath.

Source : The Observer

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