Museveni tips East African Judges on access to justice

Dec 06, 2023

Museveni observed that the people of East Africa share a common history and heritage but are only separated by artificial colonial boundaries that were created by what he termed as unpatriotic colonial masters.

Museveni observed that enhancing efficiency, timely decisions, enhancing transparency, and building public trust are key for the judiciaries in East Africa in the administration of justice.

Farooq Kasule
Journalist @New Vision

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President Yoweri Museveni has advised the judiciary in the East African Community (EAC) to apply common standards and best judicial practices to strengthen public confidence in the regional justice systems.

Museveni observed that enhancing efficiency, timely decisions, enhancing transparency, and building public trust are key for the judiciaries in East Africa in the administration of justice.

“Your lordships and your worship, I would like to remind you that your key mandate is administration of justice. The people you serve have entrusted you with this mandate and so as you deliberate during this conference, you can come up with best practices on how to enhance access to justice both operational and functional. In Uganda, we have continued to support the judiciary towards enhancing access to justice, especially for the common man.

We have recruited more judicial officers and built more courts to ensure our people get access to justice at short distances,” Museveni noted.

This was contained in his speech read for him by Vice President Jessica Alupo during the opening of the East African Magistrates’ and Judges Association (EAMJA) conference at Speke Resort in Munyonyo on Tuesday.

“As we integrate economically and politically, we also need to harmonise our judicial systems. The judiciary in the East African partner states need to apply common standards and best judicial practices across the region. I have often encountered public outcry by the ordinary people about the unfriendly workings of courts including unclear procedures and there some experiences such as long adjournments, delayed judgment and corruption tendencies among others,” Museveni noted.

The weeklong conference runs under the theme, “Harmonising the best practices of judiciaries in East Africa.”

It has attracted judicial officers from all the partner states of the East African Community save for Somalia, which has just been admitted.

Museveni observed that the people of East Africa share a common history and heritage but are only separated by artificial colonial boundaries that were created by what he termed as unpatriotic colonial masters.

“I know that African judiciaries are creatures of constitutions made by their respective patriotic countrymen and women but our social values and justice need remain the same,” Museveni said.

To build public trust in the judiciaries, Museveni tasked heads of the judiciaries in East African partner states to tackle the issue of high costs of litigation, cumbersome court procedures, judgments written in foreign languages, discrimination against women and people with disabilities, delayed execution of court orders and people losing cases simply because lack of legal knowledge even where it is clear that they have a genuine claim. 

Museveni appealed to the regional judges to tackle it head-on on saying corruption does not only undermine public confidence in judiciaries but also the whole government system.

“Corruption slows down efforts to eradicate poverty. It seems to me that a famous joke about the lawyers, that a good lawyer is one who knows that judge, not the one who knows the law, is still true today.

Some so-called lawyers are just crafty, who have access to judicial officers, court staff and influence them to favour their clients, and then in the end corruption and negotiated justice erodes people's trust in the judiciary and result in great injustice and suffering. This must change,” Museveni said.

The other priority areas in building trust in African judiciaries, Museveni said, should be harnessing the use of ICT in court processes.

Museveni commended the Chief Justice Alfonse Owiny-Dollo for the Electronic Case Management Information System (ECCMIS) which he said has improved efficiency and record keeping and also minimised physical contact between litigants and court staff which in itself minimised opportunities for corruption in the Ugandan judiciary.

“I strongly believe that public trust is the cornerstone of the dispensation of quality justice. When justice is properly administered, it guarantees peace and security in any society. I recall that Tanzania's former President Julius Nyerere once said that the work of the judiciary is nothing else than the maintenance of respect for the law. You do not control legislation but your actions together with those of police can make that legislation effective or meaningless. Unless your work is done properly, none of the objectives of our democratic society can be implemented,” Museveni said.

Museveni said judiciaries in the East African community must expedite the use of technology in filing of court documents, conducting hearings, and accessing court files and documents saying this will increase transparency, reduce the cost of litigation, and build the trust of the people in the judiciary.

Museveni said use of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) mechanism is key not only in fighting case backlogs but also in building public confidence in African judiciaries.
Museveni said without functional courts to solve disputes that may arise from initiatives such as Parish Development Model (PDM), such initiatives may be undermined.

“When criminals, murderers, and thieves are locked away, businesses thrive preserving prosperity in communities,” Museveni noted.

Regarding transparency of courts, Museveni said people should be able to legitimately predict the outcome of their cases particularly when the law and facts are clear and available.

 Museveni explained that the main reason for reviving the East African Community is to develop policies and programmes among the partner states for political, and social-cultural fields, research, technology, defence, security, and legal and judicial affairs for mutual benefit.

Museveni, former President of Kenya Daniel Arap Moi, and former President of Tanzania Benjamin Mkapa revived EAC on November 30, 1999, following its collapse in 1977.

Museveni said the collapse of EAC was mainly due to an un-patriotic leader who ruled Uganda in the 1970s.

Chief Justice Alfonse Owiny-Dollo encouraged judiciaries in the partner states to make regulations enabling lawyers in the region to practice in each member state as part of the integration process.

He noted that Uganda has since enacted law-affording lawyers in the partner states to practice in Uganda.

The Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs Nobert Mao called for a scrutiny of the judicial precedents by the Judiciaries in the region as the jurisprudence evolves.

John Eudes Keitirima, the President of East African Magistrates’ and Judges Association explained that the conference is aimed at achieving access to justice in the region as stipulated under Articles 5 and 6 of the Treaty for the establishment of the East African Community.

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