Besides the economic benefits judicial officers and the Judiciary itself are reaping as a result of the Administration of the Judiciary Act – a law that came into force in 2020, the leadership of the Judiciary has one more thing to be thankful for: The Judiciary Council.
The Judiciary Council is a 17-member team created under Section 4 of the Administration of the Judiciary Act mandated to advise the Chief Justice on how to run the Judiciary.
The Judicial Council is comprised of the Chief Justice, Deputy Chief Justice, President of the Uganda Law Society, Chairperson of the Law Council, among other officials.
According to a press statement released by the Judiciary on Tuesday, 8th, the Chief Registrar of the arm of government Sarah Langa Siu says that the Administration of the Judiciary Act is “ a game changer legislation for the Judiciary” not only because it “ operationalized Chapter 8 of the Constitution but also birthed the Judiciary Council.”
The Judiciary Council is touted as being responsible for “remarkable success” in the Judiciary’s priority areas or the so called transformation agenda in the two years the Administration of the Judiciary Act has been in force.
These priority areas include increased recruitment, infrastructural development, strengthening the inspectorate of Courts, automation of courts, operation of new Court circuits, capacity building, among others.
One of the achievements attributed to the Judiciary Council is the expansion of the Judiciary staff structure which was approved by Cabinet in August, 2021.
Under this expanded structure, the number of Supreme Court Justices is to increase from 10 to 20; the Court of Appeal Justices to increase from 14 to 55; the High Court Judges to increase from 82 to 150; Chief Magistrates to increase from 100 to 160 and Magistrates Grade 1s to increase from 386 to 514.
“The implication of this expanded structure is that there will be regional Courts of Appeal, more High Court Circuits, a Chief Magistrate in every district and a Magistrate Grade One in every constituency” the Judiciary said.
But on ground, the Judiciary does not even meet the minimum staffing needs per this structure and appointments appear slow paced especially at the higher levels of the institution. Appointments are also worryingly too probationary – there are so many judicial officers appointed in “Acting capacity.”
Presently, there are 72 Judges in the High Court and 16 of these are Acting – something activists are challenging in the Constitutional Court arguing it undermines the independence of the Judiciary as it impacts their security of tenure.
In the Court of Appeal, there are 15 Justices, and in the Supreme Court, 8. There are 77 Chief Magistrates and of these 40 are in Acting capacity. And there are 301 Magistrates Grade 1s.
Nonetheless, Judiciary staffing levels have increased from 37% in 2021 to 45% in 2022. 2 Justices of the Court of Appeal; 21 Judges of the High Court, 3 Registrars, 11 Deputy Registrars, 6 Assistant Registrars, 47 Chief Magistrates, 10 Senior Principal Magistrates Grade 1, 19 Principal Magistrates Grade 1, 26 Senior Magistrates Grade 1, and 143 Magistrates Grade 1 have been appointed, according to the Judiciary’s Annual Performance Report.
“As a result of these recruitments the Judiciary’s coverage has improved with six High Court Circuits of Hoima, Rukungiri, Iganga, Tororo, Luwero and Moroto operationalized and 16 Chief Magistrates Courts of Isingiro, Sironko, Mayuge, Kiryandongo, Dokolo, Oyam, Bubulo, Lugazi, Kyenjojo Kamwenge, Pader, Katakwi, Rakai, Kumi, Kira and Kotido [also operationalized]. Prior to these recruitments and deployments, the Judiciary had only 42 Chief Magistrates most of whom were circuiting between two to five Magisterial areas.” The Judiciary said in the press statement, adding:
“For example, in 2020 the Chief Magistrate of Fort Portal was caretaking Kyenjojo, Bundibujo, Ntoroko, Kamwenge and Kasese Magisterial areas.”
The Judiciary said as a result of the deployments of Magistrate Grade One courts in the areas of Kyotera, Kyanika, Kole, Lamwo,Kyazanga, Kagulumira, Namungalwe, Kibito and Nyarushanje case backlog at grade one level reduced from 5,085 cases in November, 2021 to 2,687 at the end of June, 2022.
Standards and Ethics
The Administration of the Judiciary Act also creates an inspectorate of Courts within the Judiciary under Section 8 generally tasked to ensure adherence to ethics and standards among judicial officers and Judiciary staff.
In implementing this provision of the law, the Judiciary Council has approved the Inspectorate’s Regulatory framework which introduces “peer committees as a soft tool to promote adherence to the code of conduct.”
The peer committees will be coordinated by a Judiciary Integrity Committee and the Inspectorate of Courts will be rolled out across the country in the current financial year.
“We await the recruitment of more judicial officers especially in the ranks of Deputy and Assistant Registrars to be deployed as Inspectors. We want to tackle the vice of absenteeism and unethical conduct seriously by ensuring the presence of Inspectors across the Courts in the country.” the Judiciary said.
The Judiciary Council also made regulations in respect of new committees other than those set out in the Administration of the Judiciary Act’s section 6. The committees include the Anti-Sexual Harassment Committee, the Case Management Committee and the Performance Management and Awards Committee.
Uganda’s Judiciary currently has 429 courthouses and of these 300 are operational. Of those operational, 150 courts are in self-owned premises, 74 in rented premises and 76 in district and sub-county buildings. The Judiciary is also constructing premises for the Supreme Court and Court of Appeal.
The Judiciary Council has now formulated Guidelines for Architectural Designs aimed at the standardization of the courthouses and an infrastructure committee has already been set up to ensure the implementation of these guidelines.
“The guidelines aim to provide a safe, conducive and uniform working environment for all Courts and will resultantly give a common outlook and identity of the Judiciary.” the Judiciary said.
Architectural designs of the Judiciary’s courthouses will encompass facilities for the disabled, modern technological systems, functional interior designs, among others.
The Judiciary vowed to crack down on shoddy construction works at its facilities through surprise inspections of construction sites, audits, among others.
According to the Chief Registrar of the Judiciary, Sarah Langa Siu, who doubles as the Secretary to the Judiciary Council, the Council emphasizes induction trainings, mentorship, continuous on going job trainings on top of close supervision of staff and Judiciary software – “the most critical source of the Judiciary.”
The Judiciary has been conducting trainings for its members and in August and September, two weeks ’ induction trainings were conducted for newly appointed Chief Magistrates and Magistrates Grade One and the 16 recently appointed judges will also undergo a two weeks’ induction training scheduled for this November.
Benjamin is a Digital Legal News Journalist (trained by Reuters) and digital media enthusiast who founded The Legal Reports website in January, 2020 while a fourth year law student at Makerere University school of law.
Prior to that, Benjamin used to write amateur blogs and some of his legal commentaries were published by the Daily Monitor and Independent Magazine - both leading publications in Uganda. He covers lawyers, law students, judges, judiciary, courts, law schools, and law firms.