The phrase â€œjustice delayed is justice deniedâ€ comes in handy here. The registrar in charge of crime registry, Roy Byaruhanga, says the backlog of criminal cases pending hearing has gone out of proportion. He says it may take the High Court 300 years to clear the backlog.
The High Court has about 20 active judges. These can deal with about 1,200 cases per year. However, about 4,700 suspects are in prison awaiting trial in the High Court. Assuming that no more suspects were sent to prisons, it would take the High Court five years to attend to the 4,700 prisoners on remand. But suspects going to prisons daily are more than those who leave. The head of the Commercial Division of the High Court, Justice Egonda Ntende, says the five judges at his court are overwhelmed by the number of business disputes filed in his division.
Te Deputy Chief Justice, Laeticia Kikonyogo, says (New Vision, November 10, 2006) the shortage of judges has created a crisis in the judiciary.
Article 28 of the Constitution provides for the right to speedy trial. If an accused person can spend three years on remand, then what is the essence of a Constitution?
A big number of prisoners on remand in Luzira Prison are defilement suspects. But this offence is only triable by High Court. The proposed amendments to the Trial on Indictments Act and the Magistrates Courts Act seek to give powers to Magistratesâ€™ courts to give bail to defilement suspects. This will reduce the backlog of cases in the High Court.
Proposed amendments to the Magistrates Courts Act also seek to allow chief magistrates to handle civil cases involving more than sh5m (maximum of sh50m). This will reduce the stress on Justice Engonda Ntende and his colleagues.
Another possible solution to this manpower crisis in the judiciary is to hire part-time judges as is the practice in the United Kingdom. These would be required to perform judicial duties for a number of days each year, and spend the rest of the working time as ordinary private practitioners.
Let us stop dragging our feet on proposed legislation that would give magistrates more powers, including handling capital offences. Courts should be close to the people so that they stop cris-crossing the country in search of justice.
The writer is a clerk in a Kampala law firm