25 March 2019

Uganda: High Court Judges Strike Over Poor Funding

Photo: Daily Trust
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Kampala — High Court judges have resolved to close all the 20 upcountry circuits (stations) because government has continuously ignored to provide them with better remuneration, operational funds and more staff.

The judges reportedly made the decision during a meeting on Friday.

"They resolved that instead of having many circuits upcountry which are not fully operational, they should close them and come back to their colleagues at the Kampala divisions," a source, who attended the meeting, told Daily Monitor at the weekend.

This newspaper has learnt that out of the 20 upcountry stations, 14 are operational and of those, Jinja and Mbarara have two resident judges while the rest have only one resident judge.

Some of the High Court circuits that have not yet been fully operationalised include Iganga, Tororo, Rukungiri, Luweero and Hoima.

When the High Court circuits were created, the plan was to have four judges at each station and at least five judges at each of the eight divisions established in Kampala.

However, the High Court divisions have an average of three judges.

Sources also said one of the judges proposed that they retain the upcountry High Court circuits that have permanent buildings such as Gulu, Masaka, Jinja, Mbale and Mbarara, but the majority of his colleagues rejected the proposal.

The sources said Principal Judge Yorokamu Bamwine tried to persuade the judges to continue working despite the "hard" conditions but they remained adamant.

A High Court judge earns about Shs9m a month, a housing allowance of Shs4m, security, medical insurance and a car, among other benefits.

The judges want their salaries raised to at least Shs16m a month.

About the operational funds, each criminal session (a hearing of about 40 cases) is allocated about Shs40m which the judges say is not enough given the high cost of living.

The sources said the judges proposed that whenever the operational funds are made available, they can organise criminal sessions in the affected upcountry stations and return to the Kampala divisions upon completion of the hearings.

When contacted, Principal Judge Bamwine confirmed the judges' resolution but added that the decision was not the official position of the Judiciary.

"That was their resolution based on their understanding that some circuits remain non-operational due to lack of judges and operational funds. Some lack a second judge, a condition precedent for their creation," Justice Bamwine said.

"Their advice will be considered by the recently announced Planning and Development Committee before it is submitted to the Chief Justice," he added.

Ten years ago, Parliament passed a resolution to increase the number of High Court judges from 51 to 82 but the decision has not been implemented.

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