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Uganda one of the safest places to live – Chief Justice Kavuma

Uganda is one of the world’s safest places to live in, thanks to the efforts of the Justice, Law and Order Sector (JLOS) to reduce crime and protect lives, acting Chief Justice Steven Kavuma has said.

Speaking at the 18th JLOS review forum recently, Kavuma outlined remarkable successes registered last year – a pointer that many Ugandans are gaining confidence in justice systems. They included, judges’ salary enhancement, which in a way will motivate them in their works. Uganda prisons services also managed to keep rates of recidivism at less than 3 persons for every 10 convicts.

“The Uganda Police force…supported by community policing, managed to keep the crime rate at 305 for 100,000 people – making Uganda one of the safest countries to live in,” said Kavuma, chair of the JLOS Leadership committee.

The directorate of Public Prosecutions (DPP) registered more convictions than acquittals through its quality assurance. Law Development Centre and the Uganda Registration services bureau services, opened new service centres to server better.

His Excellence Dan Frederiksen, the Danish ambassador to Uganda, applauded JLOS institutions for the professionalism and swiftness they use to handle some cases, although he says some concerns like corruption in the sector must be addressed.

“…I congratulate the sector, in particular police, CIID, the prosecution, prisons, and the judiciary for having successfully and swiftly taken action on a number of cases in the so called OPM-case. however, the true test will be to keep the momentum in terms of ensuring that justice will prevail in all cases,” Frederiksen said.

Infrastructure

Justice Kavuma said they would put much effort in improving the state of its infrastructure as it has remained wanting, yet crucial while executing their mandate. He said at least about 86 of 112 districts (except Kampala) don’t have a complete chain of justice.

“Headquarters of most JLOS institutions are in rented premises, which are in most cases not suited to the important function of the delivery of justice,” said Kavuma, who is also the acting Chief Justice.

He added that recently, the Uganda police at Wakiso headquarters for instance, was threatened with eviction from its rented premises; the court of appeal was evicted from its rented premises along George Street.

“We cannot, as a sector, accept to perpetually live under such threats if we are to discharge our mandate of protecting life and property, and of independently dispensing justice to all…,” Kavuma said.

This year, JLOS will start the construction of the justice centres in the districts of Ibanda, Wakiso, Kiboga, and Kyenjojo. Offices of the government analytical laboratories in Gulu and Mbarara are in the final stages of completion, so is the regional offices for the ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs in Moroto and Mbale.

The Judiciary opened and staffed nine new magistrates’ grade one stations – they include; Buhweju, Mitoma, Kaliro, Alebtong, Kigumba, Kyegegwa, Rakai, Bugembe, and Bwera. Construction of Kalangala court was completed and waits commissioning.

The sector constructed five one-stop JLOs service points to complete chain of Justice in Kayunga, Lamwo, Isingiro, Kanungu and Bundibugyo. So far Bundibugyo, Kanungu and Isingiro have been completed while Kayunga and Lamwo, are at finishing stages. This reflects a 14.5 per cents increase in number of courts constructed compared to 2011/12. Arua and Kasese Chief Magistrates courts were also rehabilitated with support from the sector.

Also rehabilitated are Jinja High court and DPP offices in Kasese, as part of the strategy to prioritise renovation and rehabilitation of infrastructure. The sector, in the reporting period, broke the ground for the construction of the Kyenjojo one stop JLOS service point. The centre will provide office accommodation for the court, DPP and Uganda Police Force. The police completed the CIID headquarters at Naguru.

Currently, the building houses the police headquarters as the sector fast tracks efforts to construct the JLOS house, where the UPF headquarters will shift afterwards. The relocation of the UPF has reduced the rent burden on the Force and will help save Shs 1.2bn per year.

To increase efficiency gains, the sector has prioritised the construction of the JLOS house to stem the hemorrhage of its resources into rental fees and improve the productivity of JLOS institutions.

JLOS has allocated Shs 5.7bn which were applied on preparation of detailed designs for the proposed construction, supervision of the construction works, resettlement of police officers from the land, and fencing.

Laws

Meanwhile, JLOS wants Parliament to enact two pieces of legislations and amend seven other laws as one way of entrenching the rule of law and administration of justice in the country. In its 2012/2013 annual report, it highlights an urgent need for the Witness Protection and Financial Leasing bills, which have already been drafted.

JLOS was formed in 1999 to coordinate and strengthen all institutions that implement law and order and offer justice in Uganda. JLOS particularly aims to address bottlenecks in administration of justice, law and order sectors in the country.

JLOS institutions including the ministries of Justice and Constitutional Affairs, Internal Affairs, Gender, Labour and Social Development, Local Governments, Judiciary and the Directorate of Public Prosecutions, among others, have been implementing Strategic Investment Plans (SIP).

Currently, it is implementing a five year strategic investment plan 2012/2013-2016/2017. In its first progress report on the five-year plan, JLOS has strengthened the independence of the Judiciary and other institutions and improved administration of justice and the rule of law.

In addition to outlining the progress, the report also proposes several areas for reform particularly, strengthening legal framework with a view of improving service delivery. JLOS targets to have strong laws with proper and effective mechanisms of implementations by 2017. One of the achievements highlighted in the report, is the issuance of national identity cards to Ugandans.

For instance, the report notes 30,000 national IDs have been issued and it is expected that by 2016, over 16 million Ugandans would have been issued with them. Some stakeholders, though, argue that the achievements are but a small drop in a huge ocean of gaps.

Isaac Kimaze, the Chief Executive Officer, Centre for Legal Aid (NGOs), believes JLOS and the directorate of Citizenship and Immigration should have done more on national IDs. He says 30,000 IDs is too small a number to be regarded as an achievement.

“The IDs project is already behind schedule, so there is nothing to celebrate. We know the national ID project is one of the unresolved scandals in the country,” Kimaze says.

The criticism aside, the report gives the Attorney General Peter Nyombi, a thumb up for having saved government trillions of shillings through litigation. In the year 2012/2013, the AG won 28 civil cases. In particular, the report explains that the AG saved government a total of Shs 3.3 trillion and $3.9m. The savings were from Heritage Oil and Gas Ltd Vs the Republic of Uganda, Pro-Bio diversity Uganda Vs Attorney General, Saline Constructors SPA Vs Attorney General.

The directorate of Citizenship and Immigration Control issued 40,019 visas to travellers, translating into a collection of Shs 54.6bn in non-tax revenue. The directorate improved border control and intercepted and rescued 10 victims of trafficking in persons.

Uganda Registration Services Bureau (URSB) registered 17,424 companies 16,443 documents, 772 debentures, 84 mortgages and 1,703 trademarks. The bureau collected Shs 20.64 bn in non-tax revenues from all registrations as at June 30, 2013. Civil registrations included 44,060 births 2,564 deaths, 2,482 marriages and 24 adoptions.

Case backlog

According to the report, the Judiciary has tried to clear its backlog of cases. However, as the institution cleared the backlog, it registered an increase in new cases – attributed to increased public confidence with the judicial system as well as increase in the number of courts opened in the country side.

However, the disposal rate in higher appellant courts like the Supreme court remained low. For instance, only 12 cases were disposed of in that court. This is however attributed to inadequate coram since much of last year, the Supreme court lacked coram. In the Court of Appeal, 205 appeals were disposed of.

The report blames the increasing new cases in lower courts to non-functionality of the local council courts (LCI, II and III). This means, even some cases that would have been settled in the informal courts at those levels have found their way into the formal courts. Local council I, II and III exercise both political and judicial power pursuant to the Local Government Act and Local Council Courts Act 2006, respectively. LCs judicial system was meant to ease local administration of justice.

However, since 2001, LC I and IIs have not been elected, meaning the courts can’t also work. The executive committee of local council I and II constitute into a court. During the reporting period, the sector, in collaboration with ministry of Local Governments, re-established 324 local council III courts in only 54 districts out of 112 districts across the country.

Local council court III is composed of members nominated from the communities on the recommendation of the sub county executive committee. Kimaze agrees with the report. He argues that the absence of local council courts to handle minor civil cases is increasing the backlog of cases in lower courts.

The Judiciary also reported an improvement in the recruitment of new judicial officers (see staffing table). As a result, all High court circuits have a resident judge and all courts now have coram. The recruitments are expected to go a long way in addressing the high caseload of judicial officers.

However, the report says the Judiciary still takes a lot of time to dispose of land cases. On average, it takes the Judiciary 26 months to dispose a land matter in the High court, 5 months in the Chief Magistrates’ court and 21 months in the magistrates’ court, from the time it is filled until it is disposed of. Delay in the magistrates’ court is attributed to lack of transport and facilitation to visit locus.

To improve efficiency mainly in the appellant courts, the report notes that the judiciary has procured transcription and court recording equipments. The equipments have been installed in the Supreme court, Court of Appeal, Family division and Land division and information desks have been set up in some High court circuits.

The commercial division has introduced the pilot phase of the small claims procedure in magistrates’ courts to provide a simplified fast track process for claims of Shs 10m and below. The process has eliminated the complicated lengthy legal procedures and one does not require legal representation.

The pilot so far has seen cases resolved in as fewer as one day with a high degree of satisfaction. Statistics shows that 60 per cent of the cases are settled within the set time standard of two weeks, after conclusion of hearing. This is important in reducing case backlog.

In order to improve service delivery standards, the DPP revised work activity targets and was able to meet sanction of case files with two days on average, from seven days previously. However, DPP remains constrained in terms of staff.

In order to improve the sentencing regime, the sector in the reporting period, completed the review and launched the Constitution (sentencing guidelines for Courts of Judicature) directions. The sentencing guidelines promote transparency and uniformity in sentencing; provide mechanisms of victims and community participation in criminal justice and equal protection before the law.

This will, in the long run, reduce public outcry on the apparent existing inconsistencies in sentences, thereby enhance confidence in the judicial system. A sentencing reform bill was also prepared.

Sheila Muwanga, the acting deputy executive director, Foundation for Human Rights initiative (FHRI), welcomes the progress but stressed the need to do more.

“We know JLOS is making a lot of efforts in ensuring the effectiveness of all JLOS institutions, the challenges notwithstanding,” she said.

Muwanga explains that despite the achievements, there is still a lot of interference in the Judiciary by state and none state actors. For instance, she says, there are people who still ignore court orders, which is dangerous.

But Kimaze wants the Judiciary and all JLOS institutions to digitise or computerise such that some services can be accessed just by a click.

48-hour rule

Uganda Human Rights Commission (UHRC) monitored 597 places of detention, where it was noted that compliance with the 48 hour rule was still a challenge. Key interventions are required to address this challenge, including improving capacity in investigations, provision of critical ancillary services such as medical examinations and addressing corruption, apathy and community attitudes, to remedial measures such as police bonds.

Ms Muwanga agrees that the abuse of the 48 hour constitutional rule, within which to formally charge suspects in court, remains one of the unresolved constitutional issues. She believes police should change its tactics.

“Instead of beginning with arrests and investigations later, police should first conduct thorough investigations then make arrests,” Muwanga argues.

She also wants government to improve the capacity of police so that it can make investigations on time procedures, fast tracking the disposal of cases and promoting the application of community service orders.

JLOS also finalised drafting the Financial Leasing Bill to facilitate trade by accessing credit facilities from financial institutions. This bill, if enacted into law, will be the first of its kind in Uganda and it is expected to promote business competitiveness by extending financial and capital facilities to the business community.

As part of enforcement of the Immigration Act, the directorate of Citizenship and Immigration control arrested and investigated a total of 1,159 immigrants and deported 295 illegal immigrants. This was possible because of increased surveillance and investment in border control. The directorate however must fast track automation of its business processes.

Big plans

According to the report, the sector plans to draft bills to amend laws affected by court decisions.  Such laws include the Evidence Act, Magistrate’s Court Act, Penal Code Act, Divorce Act, Police Act and the Anti-Terrorism Act and the Trial on Indictments Act.

“Reforms are also under way to provide a safer and more conducive environment for witnesses through the draft Witness Protection bill,” the report notes.

The sector plans to overhaul the law governing criminal trial procedure in Uganda mainly through the review of the Trial on Indictments Act and the Magistrates Courts Act. This is expected to address delays in criminal proceedings, reduce backlog of cases, modernise criminal trial procedure and therefore addresses injustices created by the delays in the current trial process.

Trial on Indictments (Amendment) Bill already in draft form, is expected to introduce plea bargaining, pre- trial and trial disclosure of information, among others. Besides, the sector also looks at strengthening witness protection. The Witness Protection Bill is expected to provide a safer and more conducive environment for witness.

It is expected to provide physical, emotional, economic and moral protection and facilitate witnesses appearing and testifying in courts of law.

According to the report, the draft bill has already been submitted to the minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs, who is expected to table it in cabinet and finally to Parliament. The proposed bill also gives witnesses security against possible reprisals after they have testified in courts.

ssekika@observer.ug

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