Parliament has upped the number of High Court judges from the current 83 to 151, after agreeing with Justice and Constitutional Affairs Minister, Hon. Norbert Mao on the need for higher numbers on the bench to ease case backlogs.
This followed the approval of a motion seeking to increase the number of judges of the High Court from the current 83 to 151 during the plenary sitting of Tuesday,04 July 2023 chaired by Deputy Speaker Thomas Tayebwa.
In defence of his motion, Mao said with rise in criminality and civil disputes, there is need to have an expanded High Court.
“…[there is] increase in population and crime rate leading to high demand for judiciary services and court use; acute case backlog, since the High Court has unlimited original jurisdiction in all matters and such appellate and other jurisdiction as may be conferred on it by the Constitution or the Judicature Act,” he said.
Commercial disputes, said Mao, are overflowing in courts, stalling the economy and jeopardising the ease of doing business indices in Uganda.
“Over Shs83 million is held up in court because of disputes; we need to unclog the court system to ensure this money flows into the economy,” he said.
MPs unanimously supported the motion, with Hon. Abdallah Kiwanuka (NUP, Mukono North) asking government to bring an amendment to the Judicature Act to increase the financial jurisdiction of magistrate courts, currently limited to matters of Shs50m value, which he said overburdens the High Court with small claims.
“Even a plot of land which costs Shs55 million has to go to the High Court; there is need to amend the law to increase the monetary value of the matters handled by magistrates courts,” he said.
Deputy Attorney General, Hon. Jackson Kafuuzi said the increase in the number of judges is necessary and should follow the recent enactment of the Administration of the Judiciary Act.
“Recently, Parliament passed the Administration of the Judiciary Act which increased allocation to the Judiciary, and this means you need value for money; to achieve value for money, we need to have enough members on the Bench,” he said.
Usuk County MP, Hon. Bosco Okiror said with the support to the Judiciary, comes responsibility and speedy dispensation of justice.
“Most of the criminal matters are handled by court though sessions. With the passing of this motion, it is only fair that criminal cases are handled in the same way civil cases are handled, you find someone spending five years on remand for a case in which, if convicted, he would spend four years in prison,” he said.
Article 138(b) of the Constitution empowers Parliament to prescribe the number of High Court judges necessary for the dispensation of justice.