By Dennis Katungi
The Justice Law and Order Sector presented its annual performance report for 2017/18 on 4th October 2018 at the Law Development Centre. The theme was: ‘empowering the people, building trust, upholding rights’.
Positive statistics were churned out - on case backlog reduction, access to sector services, improved government analytical laboratory services, renewed mandate of local council courts and informal justice systems, children & juvenile justice, efforts to check Sexual and Gender Based Violence, tackle crime and insecurity as well as renewed drive against human rights and the fight against corruption.
The principal players including the Chief Justice Bart Katureebe, Minister for Justice & Constitutional Affairs Maj Gen Kahinda Otafiire, Police & Prisons Chiefs, the DPP, the Attorney and Solicitor Generals were all there or represented.
Case backlog was reported by the Chief Justice to have reduced from 24% to 19.3% in the last year. He also reported a decrease in complaints about lost files and overstay in police cells. The sector appears excited about the recent rejuvenation of Local Council Courts following the successful conclusion of Village & Parish Council elections.
Justice Katureebe confirmed that preparations are under-way to begin training and capacity building for actors in these lower courts; utilizing the Democratic Governance Facility support by JLOS partners in development.
The Chief Justice reported multi-faceted efforts to respond to Sexual Violence & Gender based crime – including: amendment of relevant laws, specialized training for CID officers aimed at improving their investigative skills as well as a Prosecutors Manual to guide State Attorneys in handling Sexual and Gender Based Violence. The Chief Justice acknowledged that there are still challenges with forensic examinations, particularly lack of DNA and Genetic Analysers.
On human rights, the Chief Justice said that the focus is on enhancing awareness and practice at sectoral and institutional level to reduce incidence of human rights violations and mainstream the national policy on zero tolerance to corruption.
In terms of enhancing infrastructure and access to services, Justice Katureebe reported a four pronged strategy: eliminate cases that are over 3 years in the system, complete more district justice centres and one stop service points and gazette new magisterial areas. He highlighted the recent appointments of the new Deputy Chief Justice, Justices in the Supreme Court & Court of Appeal and Justices of the High Court. He said it was a clear departure from the past where the offices remained unfilled for a long time. Equally important was the Chief Justice’s commissioning of a committee that reviewed the Civil Procedure Rules, and the review by the Judiciary of all procedural laws to address inherent delays.
An important milestone reported was that of a deliberate strategic direction of the Justice sector to promote gender equality and equitable access to justice. This seeks to address the steeper barriers women face in accessing justice, countering under-representation of women within the work-force in JLOS institutions and addressing the rise in crimes that specifically target women and girls. He said that resources have been targeted at enhancing the capacity of the Sector institutions to mainstream gender in planning, budgeting and monitor progress.
Senior judges gave advice to Uganda Police Force and the public in general in the session chaired by Justice Richard Buteera. Having listened to AIGP Edward Ochom’s presentation on approaches to counter violent crime, two senior judges pointed out that Police must learn to cordon off Crime Scenes as a matter of priority. The two Judges who spoke in quick succession faulted Police on evidence gathering - starting from the scene of crime and gave examples of cases prosecution has lost due to careless handling of evidential material or adulteration of crime scene by the public. They detested the unmanaged media appetite & focus on crime scene scoops which always work in favour of suspects.
They sent a clear message: If government wants to secure convictions; Police must learn to secure crime scenes, let the public desist from intruding and adulterating the scenes. Guard evidential materials in safe custody until they are evaluated in court, avoid parading suspects to the media, do not torture suspects. The judges who spoke said that cases are almost always lost at the crime scene where 60% of critical evidence is supposed to be retrieved. One hopes that Uganda Police Force as well as the public takes heed.
The author is Director, Communications & Media Relations – Uganda Media Centre