Indigent and venerable litigants travel all the way from various regions for search of justice.
By Brian Kisomose
Judicial power in Uganda is exercised by courts of judicature which include; the Supreme Court, court of appeal, High court and such subordinate courts as parliament may by the law establish by virtue of Article 129 of the 1995 constitution of the republic of Uganda as amended.
The same constitutional provision under Clause (2) establishes the supreme court ,court of appeal, and the High court as superior courts of record .this makes the chief magistrates court and other courts that fall under it interims of hierarchy as inferior courts.
Considering the current establishment most of the districts in the country save for the capital city (Kampala) most litigants easily have access to one court of record which is the high court but no other superior courts as by law provided for.ie the Supreme Court and court of appeal.
In as much as the two courts of record i.e. the supreme court, and court of appeal are not affected by the geographical limitation in terms of jurisdiction as they are not courts of first instance, meaning the supreme court being the final appellate court, save for presidential election matters, in that an aggrieved party by way of an appeal from court of appeal with a case initially handled by high court in another district is not barred from accessing the same as established in Kampala. This thus becomes cumbersome to litigants who have to travel to Kampala to file their cases at court of appeal and Supreme Court as well.
Indigent and venerable litigants travel all the way from various regions for search of justice so as to access these superior temples of justice, thus forcing them to think that it is only the rich who can afford justice yet if we had these courts established in various regions then justice will be made accessible to all manner of people irrespective of their social, economic and political status.
Be that as it may, the high court has various divisions that have been established under it for speedy and effective dispensation of justice. It’s however, disheartening that some of the divisions are centralized in Kampala i.e. the war crimes division, execution division, commercial division, Anti-corruption court and the industrial court.
This ironically presupposes that the indigent and vulnerable litigants who do not stay in places where these courts are established are not in need of such kind of justice closer to them and if one is in need of such justice then he or she should be willing to trek to the central region so as to access this kind of justice at a hefty cost in terms of money and time.
The argument that the high court as a court of record having unlimited original jurisdiction over all cases, to some extent has lost meaning due to the establishment of particular divisions that handled particular Case, because a litigant in a region where there is no industrial court or war crimes division will have to travel to Kampala where that court is established since his or her case will not be handled by the high court with in that locality under the pretext that the court lacks jurisdiction.
The government through its judicial arm should not use the issue of lack of funding as a pretext to deny access to justice to the indigent and other citizens to justify the failure to decentralize the courts in other regions .The concerned stake holders should consider appointing judicial officers and other technical persons to close the gap that has hindered the process of decentralisation of the court system.
It is beyond doubt that the country has skilled professionals who can take up various positions at the bar, bench and other administrative positions once the government and the judiciary show the willingness and commitment to implement this idea. It is evident that the judiciary is struggling to dispose of as many cases as possible so as to avoid the backlog of many pending case as it was proved by the court census. If decentralization of court systems is implemented then in one way or the other a problem is solved.
The writer is a lawyer.