About 95% of Ugandans cannot afford lawyers, a trend, the Chief Justice, Bart Katureebe, says has injured access to justice in the country.
Speaking at the launch of the Small Claims Procedure system on Thursday at the Law Development Centre Grade I court, Katureebe said people, especially those involved in small scale business around the city, are cheated due to limited knowledge of the court system or inability to afford lawyers.
“We realised that we have a big problem of people accessing the formal justice system of Uganda. Some studies have shown that up to 95% of our people, who would like to take a problem to court, cant access courts, either because they don’t know the court system or can’t afford lawyers,” he said.
This means that only 5% out of the over 40 million population are dining on the table of justice. This trend, Katureebe said, does not resonate with the spirit of Article 126 of the Constitution, which states that the power of the judiciary is derived from people and that Judges should take into account the interests of the people when they dispense justice.
But even with only 5% accessing the court system, the number of case backlog continues to chock the judiciary.
To solve the problem, Katureebe added, a number of interventions have been rolled out to bring justice and the court system to the door steps of the people.
“So, these small claims procedures are supposed to address these gaps. It was a pilot project operated in a few courts. As soon as we realized its success, it then that I came in and issued an instrument that extended it to other courts. We are now in the process of rolling it out to various courts in Uganda,” he said.
Under the small claims procedure court system, any aggrieved party in a civil suit below sh10m can file his claim before court without any assistance from a lawyer. When the complaint is registered by court, the judge will summon the other party involved, and then the two are required to explain their complaints to a judge, who makes the appropriate orders.
According to the small claims procedure guidelines, “every suit shall be instituted in a court in whose jurisdiction the cause of action wholly or in part arises. In case of a rental dispute or claim, a small claim is instituted in a court in whose jurisdiction the property is situated or where the defendant resides.”