Deputy CJ urges public to revisit traditional dispute resolution to tackle case backlog

Justice Law and Order -->
Deputy CJ urges public to revisit traditional dispute resolution to tackle case backlog
Justice Richard Buteera

Justice Buteera contends that solely augmenting judicial personnel and expanding prison infrastructure will not suffice to alleviate the mounting case backlog

MBALE | Deputy Chief Justice Richard Buteera has called for a fundamental shift in approach towards alternative conflict resolution mechanisms as a step toward addressing persistent case backlog plaguing justice system.

Emphasising the importance of embracing methods such as reconciliation and mediation, Justice Buteera contends that solely augmenting personnel and expanding infrastructure will not suffice to alleviate the mounting caseload.

Despite governmental efforts to bolster the ranks of judicial officers and the establishment of courts in every district, the judiciary continues to grapple with overwhelming case backlog.

For instance, the Mbale Magistrates Court faces a staggering backlog of 1760 cases, with only 8 judicial officers tasked with their disposition.

Similarly, Mbale High Court contends with 3400 civil cases, overseen by just 3 judges.

The Mbale Chief Magistrate Susan Awidi says the team managed to dispose of 251 cases pledging to increase to 300 cases.

Speaking at the launch of a criminal appeals session in Mbale, where 25 cases are slated for resolution, Justice Buteera engaged stakeholders from the Justice Law and Order Sector in a candid discussion on the systemic challenges impeding effective justice administration.

Among the pressing issues highlighted were staffing shortages and inadequate funding across various justice agencies, including the Directorate of Public Prosecutions (DPP), which operates with a mere 22 state attorneys serving the entire Eastern Region.

"Like now we are going to handle three sessions but we have limited funding for witnesses’ preparations before prosecution,” regional DPP Alex Michael Ojok said.

He added that similar challenge is faced by the police who are equally unable to sermon witnesses for subsequent prosecution of criminal matters.

The DP's office has a total of 700 cases committed however, such challenges are limiting the JLOs sector's capacity to deliver justice.

Compounding these challenges is the issue of high remand populations, contributing to severe overcrowding in prisons.

The current staff-to-inmate ratio falls well below established standards, exacerbating conditions within correctional facilities.

Assistant Commissioner of Prisons Ronald Gobi revealed that the congestion rate level in eastern Uganda as of January 2024 was 213 percent with a total of 4,599 inmates against the holding capacity of 1,469.

A case in point is Bubulo prison where half of the inmates are stationed in sister prisons due to congestion according to Gobi.

“We have to take them out, when it is time to attend court we bring them back and swap,” he added.

Court of Appeal Judge Fredrick Egonda Ntende tagged the overwhelming number of inmates to the restrictive bail law.

For instance, the remand population in Eastern Uganda accounts for 62% of the overall inmate population.

In a pledge to tackle the backlog head-on, Justice Buteera announced plans to increase the number of high court sessions and charged the judicial officer to ensure cases are heard and concluded on time and judgment delivered within a reasonable time.

However, he called for the critical need to revisit the African dispute resolution mechanism other than the extensive procedural litigation strategy which is costly and time-consuming.

“I think mediation is a great tool to use today, I think conciliation and reconciliation are traditional methods of dispute resolution and we should look back to them,” Buteera said, giving the example of America where plea bargain has led to 90 percent of disposal of cases.

This proactive approach aims to inject much-needed momentum into efforts to streamline the justice system and deliver timely and equitable outcomes for all stakeholders.

Three judges have camped in Mbale to discharge 25 criminal cases including defilement, robbery, murder, and manslaughter.

Court of appeal sessions are conducted annually awaiting the establishment of regional courts of appeal which are already in the offing with Mbale being among cities earmarked for establishment of a court of appeal.

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