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Judiciary goes digital, embraces e-justice

By Hillary Nsambu

Added 19th September 2017 12:15 PM

The chief law lord regretted to say that the system was still struggling to eliminate case backlog, which he said was one of the greatest systemic barriers against access to justice.

Judiciary goes digital, embraces e-justice

Chief Justice, Bart Katureebe. Photo/AFP

The chief law lord regretted to say that the system was still struggling to eliminate case backlog, which he said was one of the greatest systemic barriers against access to justice.

The Judiciary has developed a robust Information and Communications Technology (ICT) strategy and; it is expected that within the next three years, an e-justice will have been operationalized.

Chief Justice Bart Katureebe revealed this while inaugurating the legal aid innovations conference in Kamapala.

Katureebe said that it was imperative that the Government facilitates the development of a legal aid policy and law, adopts a-state-funded legal aid scheme and strengthens community-led initiatives like Local Council Courts and Paralegal Advisory system that would fill the existing gaps in legal aid service provision.

He however, regretted that the system was still struggling to eliminate case backlog, which he said was one of the greatest systemic barriers against access to justice.

"The sector is also still grappling with the fact that most Justice Law and Orders Sector (JLOS) institutions remain largely urban-based and unavailable in 18% of the district; while 41% of the institutions operate from premises not fit for the purpose.

The justice system is further faced with many other constraints in service delivery that include lack of modern ICT equipment and reliance on manual processes; low budgetary support to sector institutions; limited legal reference materials; poor remuneration and conditions of service for judicial officers and other staff within the institutions; limited knowledge of the law and human rights by the majority population, among others," Katureebe further said.

He said that a report by The Hague Institute for Innovation and the Law (HIIL) on justice needs 2016 also revealed that 88% of Ugandans experienced difficulty in accessing justice in the past four years with land and family cases being rated as the top two most critical disputes.

Crediting the executive of the Legal Aid Services Providers Network (LASPNET) for their insight and organised the conference at this time, Katureebe said that while faced with those systemic barriers and challenges as mentioned, the situation is made worse by the limited availability of legal aid services.

He regretted to say that according to the recently published JLOS report; only 18% of the Ugandan population receives legal aid services annually, which leaves the majority, especially the poor and most vulnerable, unable to access justice.

"The formal justice system in Uganda is complex, usually ineffective and not user friendly. The most afflicted persons are the victims of sexual and gender-based violence, the widows and orphans, the poor people with land and succession related disputes. With lack of basic knowledge of their rights and in absence of basic legal aid service provision, lots of injustices are committed upon such persons," he asserted.

Katureebe said that such a situation leads to frustration sometimes, culminating into criminality manifesting in acts such as suicide and use of extra judicial means like mob justice, which creates insecurity to the population.

He noted that there is an acute shortage of legal practitioners in rural areas and; the legal aid service providers currently available provide project-led interventions, which are not sustainable.  

"Our focus should be on what work for the ordinary persons who form the majority of our population. Once we develop a simple, user-friendly and cost effective justice system, the majority will be satisfied and the rates of satisfaction will hit through the roof, which will have unprecedented impact on the public confidence in the administration of justice in this country," Katureebe stressed.

Netherlands Ambassador in Kampala Henk Jan Bakker hailed LASPNET, Barefoot Law, HiiL and JLOS for organizing the conference, the first ever to be held, and assured Ugandans of his Government's continued assistance in the sector as a development partner in the cause, which he described as just.

"We take great pride in this new platform intended to showcase innovative, sustainable and cost effective practices that provide timely justice to the poor, vulnerable and maginalised in society. Attainment of this goal, however, calls for a paradigm shift and finding lasting solutions; all of which are largely dependent on creativity and innovation, which has no end, " Bakker said.

LASPNET executive director Sylvia Namubiru Mukasa told the conference that its main purpose is to showcase existing innovations that are costs effective with potential for replication; creating awareness and to recognize and implement innovations in legal aid service delivery that increase efficiency in accessing justice.

Among the notable innovators who attended the conference were Court of Appeal justices Remmy Kasule and Geoffrey Kiryabwire who gave key note address. Others included the DPP and High Court judge Mike Chibita, Uganda Law Society president Francis Gimara, former chairperson Uganda Human Rights Commission Margaret Ssekaggya and many other important personalities.  

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