Delays in jurisdiction process, especially in the Supreme Court, are due to a huge court backlog, Johnston Busingye, the minister for justice, has said.
Busingye, who also doubles as the Attorney General, was yesterday appearing before parliamentary Standing Committee on Unity, Human Rights and Fight against Genocide to explain the judicial gaps that were noted in an October 2014 Human Rights Commission report.
The committee is currently following up the implementations of recommendations highlighted in rights report on prisons. Among the issues highlighted in the report was delayed trial of court cases in the Supreme Court, among other judicial gaps.
Busingye said some people would take up to a year or more behind bars waiting for the highest jurisdiction to hear their cases due to the few judges available.
“Most of the delays in the Supreme Court are due to the number of cases awaiting to be tried.
For instance, if your case comes in today, in March, it will find a queue of other pending cases that have been there since March last year and, hence its fate will be decided when its time comes,” said Busingye.
Busingye said the backlog is partly blamed on insufficient number of judges who are assigned a big number of appeal cases from all High courts, Commercial courts and military tribunals across the country.
“Most court appeals go as far as Supreme Court, however, there are efforts to bring down this issue,” the Justice minister said.
Emmanuel Mahame Itamwa, the spokesperson of the Judiciary, told The New Times that the backlog in Supreme Court is big, adding, however, that amending the law regulating the functions of the Judiciary has empowered intermediate courts and high courts to try some of the cases that were previously only heard by the Supreme Court.
“Supreme Court has few judges, but six new judges will be brought on board to add on the current number of 16,” he said.
Itamwa said that the six judges will be appointed in two phases, starting with the first phase of three judges that have been already added to the list of Supreme Court justices.
“All the six judges would not come on board at once, due to budget constraints,” he noted.
However, the additional six judges are still not enough to clear the case backlog at the country’s highest decision making organ, according to Itamwa, who noted that the structural functioning of the Supreme Court still requires more judges.
Legally, three judges are supposed to try a single case at a time, according to the structural functioning of the Supreme Court.
“This means that in practice, only two judges were added to the Supreme Court,” Itamwa said.
“The structure of the Court is a bit challenging, if only this would be legally emended too, so that fewer judges hear one case.
“The additional number of judges is not enough to completely overcome the manpower problem in the Supreme Court.”
There are currently at least 7,000 pending cases before the Supreme Court, with close to 4,000 in progress.