By: Araali Kagoro Muhiirwa
The Judiciary has concluded the 16th Judges Conference held last month at Imperial Resort Beach Hotel, Entebbe on the theme: Enhancing Public Confidence in the Judiciary. The conference, which was opened by President Museveni, is an annual event intended to review the successes, achievements and challenges the Judiciary faces in execution of its mandate as enshrined in the Constitution of Uganda.
Article 128(1) of the Constitution provides that judicial power is derived from the people and shall be exercised by the courts established under the Constitution in the name of the people and in conformity with the law and with values, norms, and aspirations of the people.
It is important to note that the Judiciary as the third arm of the State is duty bound to provide judicial services to the people of Uganda through adjudication and dispute settlement. It is for this reason, therefore, that the Judiciary has periodically carried out self examination on issues such as case backlog, measuring performance, productivity, ethics, corruption, work load, human resource, etc. These subjects were discussed at the recent conference.
During the discussion, Justice Anup Singh Choudry attempted to ‘scientifically’ argue that the problem in the Judiciary was not a question of the number of judges on the bench but the number of man-hours that each judge devotes to judicial work. The learned Judge thus attempted to calculate the number of days that each judge works in a year and his conclusion was that judges work 46 days a year.
Justice Choudry’s ‘scientific’ calculation was misleading and perplexing and should, therefore, not be relied upon to condemn judicial officers for not working for 365 days. All government offices, with exception of a few that deal with emergencies, remain closed on Saturdays and Sundays, which make up 104 days as argued by Justice Choudry.
Indeed, the courts in Uganda like, any other government ministries, departments and agencies remain closed on weekends in accordance with public service regulations and government standing orders. It is, therefore, unfortunate for anyone to condemn judicial officers for not opening courts on weekends. In fact, some judicial officers forego resting on weekends and go to work.
Justice Choudry further argued that judicial officers take off 36 days annual leave. First, annual leave is an entitlement included in the terms and conditions of service. In the Judiciary, annual leave is taken by judicial officers in a planned and coherent manner so as not to interrupt activities in the judicial calendar.
Justice Choudry knows very well that judicial officers hear civil cases on a daily basis, and the vacation period is used to write judgments and rulings. However, the criminal court sessions are never affected by the court vacation and these run throughout the year in all High Court circuits.
As for Christmas and public holidays, these are gazzetted days where all government offices are closed. This argument is not new. Some time back, a motion was tabled in Parliament to have the number of public holidays reduced but instead the legislators increased public holidays. It is not within the Judiciary’s mandate to reduce the number of public holidays in this country.
The other time eaters, according to Justice Choudry, are workshops, seminars and conferences. I wish to state that conferences, workshops and seminars are very important tools for institutional development. They are also used to evaluate and review performance, strengthen institutional capacity, bench mark good practices and bring about reforms.
The Judiciary, through such conferences, workshops and seminars has been able to identify gaps, thus leading to formulation of judicial reforms.
For instance, the Principal Judge Justice Yorokamu Bamwine, Justice Geoffrey Kiryabwire and Justice Godfrey Namundi spearheaded the task force on Sentencing Guidelines, Small Claims Procedure and Judiciary Gender Policy respectively. The Anti Corruption Strategy and Mediation Rules have also been developed. These are innovations intended to further strengthen the Judiciary and to promote effective service delivery.
Justice Choudry further argued that judicial officers devote about five days in a year towards burials. This was excessively exaggerated and therefore incorrect.
In the recent past, the Judiciary has been grappling with several challenges which include; inadequate numbers of judicial officers, which hinders quick disposal of cases, a justice system not yet fully computerised, increased case registration per year, resistance by litigants and lawyers to adapt new methods of dispute resolution, insufficient financial resources, inadequate support staff, archaic laws and rules that need urgent reforms, an outdated Judiciary structure, lack of office accommodation and transport.
Despite the above challenges, the judicial officers in this country are devoted to serving the people of Uganda with all their energy, ability and full capacity. It is my submission that Justice Choudry’s remarks are his personal opinion and do not reflect the correct facts about the Judiciary.