The local council elections are over and a system of the local council courts will start almost immediately having been in limbo for more than a decade.
Though local council chairpersons have been exercising political and administrative roles, these had long lost their judicial mandate because one requires election into office, with the electoral term bound by a time frame.
The Head of Communications at the judiciary Solomon Muyita says “Now that they have been elected, their mandate resumes”
With a backlog of over 30,000 cases that have been in court for more than 2 years and over 160,000 new cases registered by the judiciary annually, the courts hope to reduce on the number of cases that crosses over into the formal system.
Police spokesperson Luke Oweyesigire adds that the police will also have relief by working hand in hand to have the elected chairpersons handle petty crimes and hence reduce on the level of crime in society.
The courts that operate in three fold at the local council one, two and three play a vital role in resolving civil matters and basic criminal offenses at the grass root through mediating between vulnerable members who may not even afford court fees.
The Head of Communication at the judiciary Solomon Muyita says “the courts handle civil matters and petty criminal issues like simple assault, criminal trespass and matters to do with property and land and those that don’t require people to go to the formal court system, police or legal fees.”
To curb unnecessary corruption tendencies however, the ministry of local government has to guide the public and the courts whether there should be fees involved or not.
Muyita says “we have heard that some of the local council courts ask for money before presiding over a dispute, the ministry of local government should guide the public and the chairpersons on whether there will be any associated fees to resolve legal matters or not”
The court’s power is largely meant to mediate between disputed parties with a focus on encouraging reconciliation, apology and to make a few other orders.
According to the Local Council Court Act “… a local council court may make an order for any one or more of the following reliefs – reconciliation, declaration, compensation, restitution, costs, apology or attachment and sale; and in the case of infringement of a bye-law or Ordinance, impose a fine, community service or any other penalty authorized by that bye-law or ordinance.”
Considering that many of the chairpersons have no legal background and hold no particular academic credentials, Chief Magistrates’ Courts will be expected to play a supervisory role by giving guidance on how the courts should go about legal matters.
Muyita notes “in terms of judicial functionality, the chairpersons need to be guided by someone with a judicial mind on aspects like how best to derive a judgment, ensure fair trial and explaining rights among others.”