The East African Magistrates’ and Judges’ Association conference in Kampala has highlighted the pressing issue of case backlog within the court systems and explored strategies to effectively mitigate or eliminate this challenge.
The 20th Annual Conference, officially closed at Munyonyo on Thursday by Uganda’s Chief Justice Alfonse Owiny-Dollo Chigamoy, centered around the theme of “Harmonizing Judicial Practices in East African Judiciaries”. The conference aimed to align practices across East African judiciaries, ultimately improving access to justice within the region.
Discussions during the conference spanned various crucial topics, including the role of associations in the administration of justice, combating corruption in the Judiciary, banking challenges, land justice’s impact on socio-economic development, and the paramount issue of reducing case backlog. President of the East African Magistrates’ and Judges’ Association, Justice John Eudes Keitirima, emphasized the importance of fostering common standards and procedures in East African law.
The objective is to ensure consistency in legal practices across the region, allowing visitors from other East African nations to understand and navigate the legal system in host countries like Uganda. “We intend to harmonize all these practices within the region and we hope we shall bring everybody on board including the new member states that have joined the region,” said Keitirima.
The conference participants deliberated on Tanzania’s successful reduction of case backlog over ten years, considering it a potential model for other countries facing similar challenges.
Keitirima explained that to address the issue of case backlog, they proposed case profiling, prioritizing old cases, swift resolution of urgent matters, and the use of technology. ” If you are dealing with technology you are most likely to move faster than when dealing with matters manually. Then the other thing is to appreciate the volume of work we have and suggest solutions especially with a human resource that needs to deal with that work because ultimately it is the human beings that deal with this work,” added Keitirima.
He underscored the importance of justifying resource needs while ensuring transparency in dispensing justice. “So the issue of the human resource is critical, the issue of finance and support to the Judiciary is critical and therefore the support from the other arms of the state especially Parliament and executive is critical but as Judiciary we need to do our homework and justify why we need that support and that we are going to do as an association we pledge to do that,” Keitirima explained.
Furthermore, the legal fraternity affirmed their commitment to delivering transparent, fair, and unbiased justice, urging each other to combat corruption and discrimination to build trust in East African judiciaries. Chief Justice Owiny-Dollo encouraged judicial officers to participate in such conferences to learn from shared experiences. He announced that next year’s conference will take place in Kigali, Rwanda.
President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, during the conference’s opening, urged East African judges and magistrates to establish common standards and best practices. He emphasized improving access to justice, enhancing efficiency, addressing case backlogs, and combating corruption as crucial areas for development in the judiciary.
According to Uganda Judiciary’s Annual Performance Report released in October 2023, the judiciary currently grapples with a backlog of 43,617 cases that have lingered within the system for several years, defined as cases exceeding two years without a conclusion in the courts.
Although the official conference proceedings have concluded, this afternoon and tomorrow are dedicated to sports, where judicial officers will compete at Lugogo Stadium.