The Parliamentary Committee on Legal and Parliamentary Affairs commended the Judiciary for standing out in the construction of appellate Court structures and other development projects.
While interacting with the team from the Judiciary to present the Policy Statement for the institution for FY 2023/2024 to Parliament led by the Permanent Secretary/Secretary to the Judiciary (PS/SJ) Dr. Pius Bigirimana and the Chief Registrar HW Sarah Langa Siu, Hon. Fox Odoi, MP West Budama thanked the Judiciary for standing out on the construction of the Supreme Court and Court of Appeal buildings. Hon. Odoi observed thus, “You have set a wonderful record. In your absence, we ask other government entities to benchmark from you on the precedent you have set in the construction of Government projects”.
Similar remarks were echoed by Hon. Stephen Baka Mugabi, MP Bukooli North when he observed that the appellate Courts superstructures are a testimony of the good work being done at the Judiciary. He commended the Judiciary administration for being efficient, noting that the Administration of the Judiciary Act has improved the outlook of the institution.
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In a detailed presentation of the Judiciary’s plans for the next Financial Year, Dr Pius Bigirimana, highlighted the Budgetary Provisions and planned outputs in the FY2023/24, the emerging issues, unfunded priorities, supplementary provision for FY 2022/23 and the detailed utilization as well as the status of case backlog in the institution. He also highlighted the strategic plans taken so far to address case backlog.
With specific emphasis on case backlog, the PS/SJ informed the Parliamentary Committee that, at the close of February 2023, case backlog stood at 45,912 cases (27.82%) against a total caseload of 165,005pending cases in the entire court system. He thus observed that delays in concluding cases remains one of the main impediments in access to justice.
On her part, the Chief Registrar observed that of the 45,912 backlog cases, the Supreme Court has 316,Court of Appeal 5,234, High Court circuits 18,049 with the High Court Divisions having 9,952. The Chief Registrar further informed the Committee that the Chief Magistrate’s Courts Case Backlog stood at 9,933, Magistrate Grade I Courts have2,392 while the Magistrates Grade II Courts have 36 backlog cases.
On what actions have been taken to address the cancer of case backlog, the Parliamentary Committee was informed that the Judiciary has taken a deliberate effort to deal with case backlog. The case backlog reduction efforts include plea Bargain sessions in criminal matters both in the High Court and Magistrates Courts, daily hearing of criminal matters at the Criminal Division of the High Court, Small Claims Procedure in commercial matters of subject value of up to UGX 10M/- currently being implemented in 175 courts and Mediation. Other interventions being undertaken by the institution include weeding out sessions for non-starter cases, recruitment of more Judicial Officers, coming up with Guidelines and Practice Directions to guide courts in the quick disposal of cases and ensuring that the existing procedural legislation is amended to match with the changing times and needs of the population. The Chief Registrar further observed that the institution has taken deliberate efforts to incorporate the use of ICT in its operations with specific emphasis on ECCMIS, an online system of case management, Video Conferencing, electronic delivery of judgements; and capacity building of its Judicial Officers by having them trained more especially in judgment writing and case management.
The PS/SJ equally took the legislators through the Judiciary’s status of outstanding domestic arrears, status of implementation of NBFP for FY 2023/24, Non Tax Revenue Performance for FY 2022/2023 and vote challenges.
While still interacting with the Committee, it was resolved that the Committee finds time to further interface with the Chief Justice to discuss among other issues of performance of Courts more especially the Supreme Court and Court of Appeal.
The Chief Registrar also informed the Committee that the Judiciary is on course in reviewing the pecuniary jurisdiction of Magistrates Courts as a way of unclogging the high number of cases pending before the High Court. She also informed the committee that the Judiciary is still re-gazetting Magisterial Areas and High Court Circuits as a way of improving physical access to justice, and that this was in line with the Judiciary�s Transformational Agenda of taking services closer to the people.
On the question of performance of Judicial Officers, the Chief Registrar clarified that Judicial Officers at different Court levels have annual set targets adding that the Judiciary was in advanced stages of rolling out a Performance Enhancement Tool. This is a 360 degrees appraisal system where judicial officers will be assessed by their supervisors, peers, subordinates, advocates, prosecutors and the public on varied parameters.
On their part, the Parliamentary Committee commended the lower bench for the good performance as reports indicate that the lower bench has on quarterly basis surpassed its set targets.
Giving feedback to the Judiciary delegation, Hon. Oseku Richard Oriebo, MP Kibale County who chaired the meeting, informed the Judiciary delegation that during their countrywide inspections, they had received requests from other justice institutions for support in order to match the pace of the Judiciary.
In regard to ICT interventions being implemented in the Courts, the PS/SJ informed the committee that all is being done to automate court processes in all the courts through the Electronic Court Case Management Information System (ECCMIS), Video Conferencing and related platforms. The PS/SJ informed the committee that ECCMIS is now operational in seven courts around Kampala, and seven more will soon be added on the System. The committee was also informed that the judiciary has installed video conferencing facilities at the Supreme Court, Court of Appeal, Divisions of the High Court as well the High Court Circuits of Mbarara, Gulu, Arua, Jinja, Mbale, Masindi, Masaka, Soroti and Kabale. The PS/SJ also informed the committee that the Judiciary is looking at possible options to ensure that there is seamless internet access within the institution.
The PS appealed to the Committee for support to ensure that the whole house supports the Judiciary’s cause.
On their part, the Committee gave their assurance to support the Judiciary for effective administration of justice, a vital need to the population.
The MPs however encouraged the Judiciary to embrace the use of virtual sessions especially in appellate courts where Justices deal with law other than the facts and evidence.
Presenting the budget estimates for the institution for the next FY, the committee was informed that the Judiciary’s budget estimates for the next FY stands at UGX392 billion as the increment in the UGX10 billion is intended to cater for the retirement benefits of Judicial Officers.
In the 2023/2024 national budget, the Judiciary has been allocated Shs.381.952Bn of which Shs108.767Bnwill go towards payment of wages, Shs209.830 for non-wage items whileShs63.010Bn for development.