Since 2001, the Judiciary has been transforming its structures to adapt to new technology in order to improve efficiency, tackle case backlog and reduce bureaucracy in handling of cases.
KAMPALA - Chief Justice Bart Katureebe launched a video conferencing system Monday to help in expediting the handling of criminal cases at magisterial level while at the same time minimising the cost of transporting suspects.
The new system, which links Buganda Road Chief Magistrate's Court and Luzira Maximum Prison Virtual Court, was launched at the former court.
Since 2001, the Judiciary has been transforming its structures to adapt to new technology in order to improve efficiency, tackle case backlog and reduce bureaucracy in handling of cases filed before it, and bring justice closer to the ordinary people.
So far the institution has implemented four ICT strategies, but Katureebe noted that their biggest setback to achieving full digitalisation of its structures is underfunding.
Speaking at the launch, Katureebe he said the Judiciary has been grappling with case delays and case backlog in the administration of justice.
However, he noted that the system will easily connect parties to a case, including interpreters and law enforcers with the magistrate's court in real time.
For a start, the system will connect the magistrate's to Luzira prison's virtual courts fitted at the male and women's wings using video conferencing facilities. Each of the courts is fitted with virtual servers, big flat screens and cameras to relay sound and video.
Katureebe said they are starting with cases slated for mention and those that have no witnesses. The prisoners with such cases will be taken to the virtual courts within the prison where they will be allowed to follow the proceedings during the mention through video conferencing.
This will work for not only cases at Buganda Road court but also for other magistrate's courts in Kampala and Wakiso, such as the Mengo court.
It is hoped that the development will save the prison authorities from the logistical burden of delivering prisoners to court on a daily basis, thereby reducing expenditure on transportation and protecting judicial and prison officers from aggressive inmates.
He said the system will also be used for non-trial matters such as online training for judicial officers.
James Saaka, the director of National Information Technology Authority (NITA), which is hosting the technology, said that by May this year, they will have rolled out internet connectivity in hard-to-reach areas such as Karamoja and West Nile so that video conferencing is also available there.
He said the data recorded through this new system will be stored at the national data centre in Kampala, noting that they have the capacity to provide any amount of internet speed the Judiciary will require.
Video conferencing involves a live, visual connection between two or more people residing in separate locations for the purpose of communication. It provides transmission of full-motion video images and high-quality audio between multiple locations.
Saaka pledged their commitment to helping the Judiciary implement its ICT strategy so as to improve service delivery.
Gaps in witness protection 'will be narrowed'
Uganda Law Society vice-president Phiona Nabaasa said the system will help improve prosecution and bring access to justice to the people. Prosecution skills and record keeping will also improve, she added.
"We have gaps in witness protection. There is no law to protect the witnesses. Therefore, this new system will help narrow this gap," she said upon hearing that the system can be used to distort a witness's voice and also hide their faces.
Charles Ogwal, the deputy director of public prosecutions, said the system has come at a time when his office is already embracing technology.
They are already using the audio-visual system, launched last year, to handle cases of sexual and gender-based violence, but asked that the two systems be intermarried to facilitate information sharing.
With the system, Ogwal said, witnesses will avoid being embarrassed in court by testifying remotely.
The launch was also attended by Prisons chief Dr. Johnson Byabashaija, who was at the virtual court at Luzira Maximum prison. He welcomed the technology and said it will help save a lot of money they spend in transporting witnesses.