Chief justice Alfonse Chigamoy Owiny-Dollo has suspended all court hearings and appearances including election petitions for the next 42 days.
According to the circular issued today Monday, the suspension is in line with the presidential directives issued yesterday for prevention and mitigation of the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19).
President Museveni on Sunday issued 40 guidelines including the closure of education and religious facilities, banning cross-border district movements except between Kampala, Wakiso and Mukono, limiting public meetings and gatherings to a maximum of 20 people except for cabinet, parliament, and the judiciary.
However, in his circular, Dollo noted that for the cases at the stage of submissions, the respective courts may advise the parties to file written submissions through email addresses provided by the court.
"Judicial officers handling urgent business must operate in court halls or open space at the courts. Whenever practicable virtual hearing of cases should be adhered to including insisting on written submissions use of email, online delivery of judgements and audio visual hearings and other modes of contactless communication,” reads the circular in part.
According to the circular, the judiciary will also scale down operations to 30 per cent physical presence and ensure that only critical staff remain to attend to the court/office business on a daily basis and all registries must remain open to allow the filing of cases.
"The heads of courts and departments should immediately work out a duty rota by which staff shall work in rotation until further directions are issued. For the duty rota must include a judicial officer and very essential support staff," Dollo added.
The circular adds that only urgent matters will be heard during the 42 days in strict observation of the standard operating procedures and it also encourages other judicial staff to work from home.
When contacted one of the lawyers handling election petitions, Caleb Alaka said that it is not only unfair but the judiciary is perpetuating fraud.
Alaka who represents a number of petitioners in court and respondents such as Rebecca Kadaga, the former speaker of parliament said that people like Kawempe North MP Muhammad Ssegirinya whose victory is being challenged by his client Sulaiman Kidandala is going to continue enjoying privileges in parliament, yet he doesn't have the necessary academic qualifications to be there.
The law mandates the judiciary to hear electoral petitions within 60 days. But the judiciary public relations officer Jamson Karemani says that they are still within the time because the counting starts after a hearing date has been given.
In this case, the judiciary had not yet fixed any hearing dates for the 104 parliamentary election petitions and 49 local government petitions that were filed after the January/February 2021 general elections.
The Anti-Corruption court was closed earlier on Friday until June 18 due to a spike in cases including the infection of two judges and several support staff.
Dollo said urgent matters for plea taking will be handled at Buganda Road Magistrate's court.