The Deputy Chief Justice Alphonse Owiny Dollo has warned judges and other judicial officers against blocking journalists from covering court proceedings in cases they are adjudicating.
Speaking during the launch of a report on open justice titled ‘ A closed or open reality for Uganda’s media?’ by Catherine Anite from the Freedom of Expression Hub, Dollo said that because journalists are the ears and eyes of society, they should be allowed access to court proceedings so they can relay the information to the wider public.
“One(public) is able to agree or disagree with the judge because they walked the process with him(judge) through the media. Justice should not only be done but also seen to be done. That way, it is easier for the public to appreciate what the courts of law are doing after following the proceedings through journalists,”Owiny Dollo said on Tuesday.
The Deputy Chief Justice advised judicial officers that they sit in judgments for the benefit and interest of the wider public and by stopping journalists from attending and covering proceedings, it would be a disservice to them and this would not promote the integrity of the judiciary.
There have been cases of journalists being blocked especially by judges from covering court proceedings in the past.
In 2017,High Court Judge Elizabeth Kabanda, who was hearing the case of Makerere University academician Stella Nyanzi for a review of her bail ordered journalists out of her chambers .
In 2014, Buganda Road Chief Magistrate, Lillian Bucyana issued an order blocking journalists from attending the hearing of a case involving the leaking of classified information involving the then Inspector General of Police, Gen.Kale Kayihura.
Speaking on Tuesday, the Deputy Chief Justice said blocking journalists should never be at the mercy of judges but only when they are compelling reasons and explained to everyone in the case.
“Barring journalists from attending court proceedings should not be from the judge but can only arise if their presence leads to frustration of the proceedings. If their attendance will make the proceeding a nullity, then journalists can be barred,”Dollo said.
In the past, journalists have been blocked if court proceedings involve issues concerning the security of the country or the witnesses.
The Deputy Chief Justice, however, urged journalists to report responsibly on the matters in court but also having better knowledge of the court jargons.
Justice Duncan Gaswaga, the head of the Executions and Bailiffs division of the High Court also urged that there should be some guidelines to be followed by journalists while covering court proceedings.
“We need to be able to balance rights of everyone by putting in place guidelines on how journalists can do their work while covering court. Once we have guidelines spelt out, we will have good relations,” Justice Gaswaga said.
Lawyer Nicholas Opiyo, however, noted that the media should be ethical but also judicial processes must be guided by judicial officers basing on circumstances.
“Not all cases are the same. There are many parties and we must be alive to the complexity of interests by the various parties in judiciary proceedings,”Opiyo said.
Anthony Wesaka, a journalist from Nation Media group, however, urged that journalists should never be viewed as uninvited guests in courts of law but rather as partners.
“We are the ear and eyes of the public and if you gag us, you are stopping the public from getting information on what transpired,”Wesaka said.
He, however, urged fellow journalists to uphold the professional journalism standards while covering court proceedings.
About the report
Titled, ‘Open justice; A closed or open reality for Uganda’s media?’ , the report was compiled as part of the project titled; “Just Speech: Protecting freedom of expression and access to information in Uganda,” aimed at improving the legal protections for freedom of expression and access to information in Uganda.
The project is implemented by Freedom of Expression Hub in partnership with Chapter Four & Laspnet.