The Chief Justice Bart Katureebe has issued guidelines to enable the online hearing of court cases in order to ” allow for business continuity in the Uganda Judiciary during and after the COVI9-19 lockdown and in furtherance of the Government of Uganda advice to use online services in our work processes ”
The guidelines which will apply along established laws that govern electronic transactions and communications are in line with the third arm of Government’s transition from physical centric work places to virtual work environments, thanks to the Pandemic.
” During this time, all Judicial officers and staff will continue being on duty. However, there will be no court appearances ” The Chief Justice directed in an earlier administrative and contingency plan to prevent and mitigate the spread of the virus.
” Judicial officers with pending judgements shall use this period to complete. Where possible Judgements and Rulings may be issued to the parties online or via E-mail ”
The new guidelines, delivered by way of office instruction, apply to whatever online tools that may be used and the online hearings will be in respect of delivery of Judgements, delivery of rulings, hearing of Applications such as Bail, mentions, and interlocutories.
” In the case of rendering Judgements, time shall begin to run as soon a the Judgement is delivered by any Court of law and transmitted using any of the modes notified to the parties. ” The Guidelines read in part.
” In the case of prison and correctional facilities, the Chief Justice shall issue directions from time to time as to which facilities are deemed fit for the conduct of online hearings ”
Attendance of the court hearings will be by invitation conveyed to participants -Judicial officer handling a case, clerks assigned to a case, advocates of the parties in a case, the parties, media and interested persons, through E-mail addresses, Whatsapp, or invitation through the online tool being used.
” The ICT department of the Judiciary will create an invitation email (prior to the start of the meeting) which shall include all information participants need to access the hearing, including phone numbers in case they need assistance.
” The ICT department of the Judiciary can also create and access a directory which includes details of all members registered or signed. It is from this directory where they can invite people to join the hearing using their online hearing tool contact names.
” The ICT department of the Judiciary will send the meeting ID and Password via the Whatsapp phone contacts of all the participants to the hearing ” The Guidelines provide.
In terms of data privacy and security, the Chief Justice has directed that there shall be no sharing of the personal information provided by participants in a given hearing and the proceedings shall only be recorded by the Judiciary’s ICT department in order to ” create an official court transcript which shall be available to the parties in the usual way.”
” An audio-visual transcript may also be made available on application by any of the parties to the parties to the proceedings strictly for court purposes only”