The Principal Judge, Dr Yorokamu Bamwine has claimed that contrary to earlier media reports that High Court judges have resolved to close all the 20 upcountry courts over poor funding, the move was not deliberate or motivated by industrial action.
Bamwine, in a statement issued March 25 claimed that local media insinuated there was a crisis and judiciary on strike, which is not the case.
A story published by daily monitor indicated that during a meeting Friday last week, High Court judges resolved to close all the 20 upcountry circuits (stations) because government has continuously ignored to provide them with better remuneration, operational funds and more staff.
However, Bamwine reiterates that “it’s not true that 20 courts have been closed. It was a recommendation, which may be accepted or rejected by the Judiciary administration and the government.”
“It will be considered by Judiciary’s Planning and Development Committee and if the Committee supports it, then the next move will be to advise the Chief Justice on the possible closure of those courts,” he added.
The Judiciary operates eight specialised divisions of the High Court that are based in Kampala, and it has 20 gazetted High Court Circuits (branches of the High Court outside Kampala).
The decentralisation of the High Court that led to the creation of the Circuits started in 1998.
Only 14 of the Circuits (Arua, Fort Portal, Gulu, Jinja, Kabale, Lira, Masaka, Masindi, Mbarara, Mbale, Mpigi, Mubende, Mukono and Soroti) are operational.
The six Circuits of Hoima, Iganga, Luwero, Moroto, Rukungiri and Tororo have not been operationalised due to lack of funds, infrastructure and human resources.
Besides, only Mbale, Gulu, Masaka, Kabale and Masindi High Court Circuits have structures customised for a High Court – the other circuits are either resident in structures of magistrate courts in the areas or operate in rented buildings.
“We created circuits with the hope that we would have a minimum of two judges per circuit. That was the standard, but as we talk only three out of 20 (Jinja, Mbale and Mbarara) have two judges,” Bamwine said.
According to the judiciary, they want High Court judges increase from the current 51 to 82.
They also claim that most of the High Court Circuits lack basics like secretaries, court clerks and interpreters while only five out of 20 have High Court buildings. The rest operate from un-customized rented structures or share accommodation with magistrates’ courts.
The judiciary also maintains that Resident judges suffer from loneliness hence need to be given some staff for interaction.
“Being at upcountry stations alone (without professional colleagues) makes them feel lonely, yet the nature of their job makes it hard for them to freely fraternise with just anybody,” one the recommendation stipulates.