The Observer (Kampala)

23 July 2014

Uganda: Judiciary Launches E-Payment of Fees

To improve justice delivery and temper growing criticism of corruption, the Judiciary has announced some innovations.

Among them is the introduction of the e-justice system which will allow electronic payment of court fees to lock out middlemen, accused of being facilitators of corruption in courts. According to Araali Muhiirwa, the Judiciary's public relations officer, the innovations are being held back by government bureaucracy.

"We have initiated the e-justice system but we are moving slow [on its implementation] because being a government institution, we have to make sure that all the other stakeholders are brought on board," Muhiirwa said recently during a public debate on the recently-published Anti Corruption Coalition Uganda (ACCU) report that names and shames low-ranked corrupt judicial officials.

The debate, held at WBS TV auditorium, was themed "Can we still trust the magistrates?" It attracted anti-corruption activists and members of the Judicial service, among other guests.

Besides the electronic payment of court fees, e-justice will also enable litigants to electronically receive court summonses. In its June 2014 report, ACCU unearthed intriguing details of how magistrates and other court staff solicit bribes from litigants in order to decide cases in their favour. Part of the corruption in the eyes of the public is the failure to pass judgments on time, with the backlog of cases now topping 4,000.

"Even if a judge decided to sit from morning to evening to deliver a judgment at least every day, they can't finish off the backlog," said Harriet Ssali Lule, the Judiciary's deputy spokesperson. "It has never happened for the judiciary to advertise jobs [for] magistrates but why do you think it is being done nowadays? It is a sign that we [Judiciary] are in a crisis," Lule added.

Several activists called for a revolution in the judiciary, blaming the current setup of the Judiciary for the flaws in the judicial service system. ACCU's Cissy Kagaba, for instance, said the reluctance by the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) to interdict implicated judicial officers was in itself abetting corruption in courts. Legal Brains Trust's Isaac Ssemakadde Kimaze told the Judiciary's representatives that proposed reforms were not adequate.

"Uganda's courts are characterised by a fluctuation of morals, practice and etiquette... We don't need just reforms in the Judiciary but a revolution if things are to improve," he said.

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