Remand Home Shortage Impedes Juvenile Justice

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In a recent report from the Judiciary for the financial year 2022/2023, it has been disclosed that the absence of remand homes in most districts across Uganda is contributing to delays in the resolution of juvenile cases. The report, which is mandated by the Administration of the Judiciary Act, 2020, requires the Chief Justice to provide the public with a comprehensive overview of the Judiciary’s performance and to submit copies of the annual performance report to the President and the Speaker of Parliament each financial year.

Chief Justice Alfonse Owiny-Dollo unveiled this year’s report, emphasizing that the lack of remand homes in the majority of districts is leading to unintended violations of the Children Act and other related laws. He further explained that the high costs of transportation to the courts are causing overcrowding in the existing remand homes, which, in turn, exacerbates the delays in case trials.

However, the report does indicate some positive aspects of the Judiciary’s performance. It reveals a steady growth in the number of completed cases, with an increase from 156,875 cases in the financial year 2020/21 to 205,967 cases in 2021/22, and 266,323 cases in 2022/2023. The report also points out that the courts ended the year with a caseload of 156,349 cases, of which 42,960 were categorized as backlogged. Cases are considered backlogged when they remain unresolved within the court system for more than two years.

The Chief Justice credited the enhanced performance in case disposal to various initiatives such as plea bargaining, mediation, small claims procedures, daily hearings within the Criminal Division, and special sessions dedicated to Gender and Sexual-Based Violence (SGBV) cases.

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According to the report, 22,092 cases were successfully completed through the Small Claims Procedure, recovering a total of 16.4 billion Shillings, compared to 11.1 billion Shillings in the financial year 2020/21. Additionally, 1,250 cases were resolved through mediation out of the 2,210 cases enrolled in the mediation scheme, and 2,857 cases were concluded through plea bargaining at the High Court level. Another 1,160 cases were brought to completion through the day-to-day hearing of cases.

The report also highlights the plans to establish Regional Courts of Appeal, aiming to resolve appeal cases from High Courts at the regional level, with the goal of reducing the cost of accessing justice. Currently, only one Court of Appeal is located in Kampala.

In an effort to promote equal opportunities and reduce vulnerability, the report states that the Judiciary has established children and victim-friendly rooms in nine courts. There are plans to expand these rooms and provide additional support, such as sign language interpreters in courts and access to braille services for individuals with special needs.

The report reveals that, in the upcoming financial year, the Judiciary intends to prioritize amending the Magistrates Courts Act to increase the civil jurisdiction of Magistrates Courts, allowing them to handle disputes with an enhanced value, consistent with the country’s current economic trends and inflation levels. Currently, magistrates are limited to cases with a subject value not exceeding 50 million Shillings.

Another priority is the review of the High Court Circuits Instrument 2016 to create ten new High Court Circuits in various regions. This is aimed at improving access to High Court services in those areas.

Additionally, the Judiciary plans to acquire a marine boat to reach remote island areas, such as Buvuma and Kalalangala, and expand their fleet of vehicles.

The report also mentions the development of a Judgment Writing Tool that will provide judicial officers with easy access to different laws and authorities through a user-friendly template. This tool is expected to significantly reduce case backlog by streamlining the process of writing judgments and rulings.

During the report’s presentation, Justice and Constitutional Affairs Minister Nobert Mao expressed his appreciation for the Judiciary’s accomplishments and praised Chief Justice Owiny-Dollo for his leadership. He emphasized the importance of supporting the Chief Justice and celebrating their achievements, despite occasional negative reactions.

The Judiciary successfully achieved its accomplishments in the past financial year with a budget of 390 billion Shillings, provided by the government of Uganda.

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