REMARKS BY THE HON. THE PRINCIPAL JUDGE
HON. JUSTICE DR. FLAVIAN ZEIJA (PHD) AT
THE OPENING CEREMONY OF THE ANNUAL REGISTRARS AND MAGISTRATES CONFERENCE 2022
HELD AT MESTIL HOTEL, KAMPALA.
28TH NOVEMBER 2022
My Lord, The Hon. The Chief Justice,
My Lord, the Executive Director, JTI
Your Worship, the Chief Registrar
Your Worships, The Registrars & Magistrates,
Ladies and Gentlemen
I am delighted to make remarks at the opening ceremony of the two-day Registrars and Magistrates Annual Conference for the year 2022. I thank the Leadership of the Judicial Training Institute (JTI) for organizing this conference and for inviting me to make remarks.
My Lord, the Hon. The Chief Justice allow me applaud their Worships the Registrars and Magistrates for their relatively good performance in the last FY 2021 /2022. The disposal rate stood at 61% for the Chief Magistrates which was a 6 percentile increase from 55% registered in FY 2020/2021, for the Magistrates Grade 1 courts, the disposal rate stood at 71% which was a 15 percentile rise from the earlier 56% registered in FY 2020/2021. The Magistrate Grade II courts recorded a disposal rate of 59% which was a 19 percentile drop from 78% in FY 2020/2021.
At the High Court level, the disposal rate stood at 36% which was a drop from in FY 2020/2021. Therefore, the Magistrates Grade 1 Courts recorded the highest disposal rate of 71%. Whereas the disposal rate at the High Court is still low, it is still a good foundation to build on moving forward, considering that the Judiciary was still grappling with manpower gaps especially at the High Court level during the period under review. The performance at the High Court level can in many ways partly be attributed to Your Worships the Registrars, Deputy Registrars and Assistant Registrars because you are a pivotal link in the disposal chain of cases. This also applies to Research Magistrates whose day to day work majorly rotates around drafting opinions to assist their Lordships the Judges and Justicesin arriving at just decisions. I therefore call upon you to own the statistics and lead the initiative to ensure that performance greatly improves in the current financial year.
Of course, the overall significant improvement in the disposal rate for all courts of judicature at 55% (an improvement from an earlier 49%) can be attributed to;
- Recruitment of new judicial officers at Magistrate and Registrar level.
- Operationalization of new Magistrates Courts
- Increased automation of court processes
- Increased use of Alternative Dispute Resolution Mechanisms like plea bargain, small claims procedure and mediation
- Procurement of vehicles for conducting locus and support supervision.
- Increased monitoring and supervision by Judiciary Administration as well as their increased participation in court open days etc.
Your Worships, it remains crucial that you participate in routine self-introspection by meeting with your staff to review and evaluate performance at your respective stations with the view of curbing the challenge of case backlog at all levels.
I would like to re-assure Your Worships that the various challenges that you often highlight in your status and statistics reports are always noted and the responsible offices have already started addressing many of these challenges in a phased manner depending on the priorities and resource envelope.
However, let me also note that some complaints against judicial officers are still persistent and may need Your Worships to seriously address at Your respective stations. These may include;
- Delayed delivery of judgments and rulings. These should as much as possible be delivered with 60 days unless otherwise due to justifiable reasons.
- Omission to visit locus in land matters. The Civil Procedure rules now make locus visits mandatory in land matters to facilitate a reconciliation of the evidence given in court and what is really on the ground.
- Missing files. This has in many ways partly been attributed to disorganized archives. I have always insisted that the archives should be organized in such a way that it should be easy to retrieve a file in less than 3 minutes. I have in the past advised that Mpigi High Court should be used as a model court on organization of archives.
- Disorganized exhibit rooms. We have very few exhibit stores which are organized. I request the Chief Registrar to re-issue guidelines on disposal of exhibits so that exhibit and archives rooms do not continue to look like dumping grounds.
- Bail funds. It has been a common complaint by the public at many of the Court Open days I have attended that court staff or people purporting to act on behalf of the judicial officer demand for money from litigants for grant of bail. I implore Your Worships to educate the public in your respective jurisdictions and also be vigilant to cause the arrest of criminals who masquerade around court premises with the motive of ripping off unspecting litigants.
- Court ambiance. Your Worships, part of the reason you receive Operation Funds is for the maintenance of the court ambiance and facilitating minor repairs. I implore you to always put operational funds to proper use.
- Absenteeism.This should be avoided at all costs. I recall a situation at Katakwi court where the court looked so deserted and there was nobody at court at Midday when we went there for inspection. In Nakasongola, both the Chief Magistrate and Magistrate Grade 1 connived to fabricate medical evidence in an effort to explain their absence from the station when the team from the office of the Chief Registrar visited abruptly. Such incidences are absurd and should be avoided at all costs if we are to harmoniously co-exist in the new judiciary.
- Court premises. We implore Your Worships to be our agents in your respective jurisdictions to lobby for land for construction of court premises where we do not have premises. Priority in construction of court premises will be given to areas that have availed land to the Judiciary for that purpose.
- Bias. It is common for litigants to perceive bias every time your conduct portrays a predetermined mind regarding the outcome of any matter over which you are presiding. In so doing, you portray yourself and the institution you serve as disreputable. Let us therefore mind our decorum so that it almost becomes impossible for litigating parties to guess in whose favor the decision will be.
- Unnecessary adjournments. I cannot emphasize enough the need for every judicial officer to take charge of his or her court. It is incumbent upon you and not the Advocates and Litigants to manage the matters before you. Providecandid timelines and stick to them. Don’t cause-list an unrealistic number of matters on the same day at the same time only to adjourn them because it is not practically possible to hear all of them at the same time. Adjournments should not be granted for flimsy reasons but only in deserving cases.But how can you exercise a clear moral authority to give direction to other court users when you are a perpetual absentee or poor time manager yourself?
- Poor customer care. Let us embrace good customer care practices at our courts. Complaints against registry staff and court clerks and some judicial officers lacking basic tenets of customer care are wide spread. I call upon you to ensure that good customer care practices are observed in your respective stations.
As I conclude, your Worships should not fear complaints as you perform your duties. Complaint are a natural consequences of judicial work. We shall vehemently defend any judicial officer who performs his or her duties professionally from malicious attacks. However, we shall also candidly refer for disciplinary action any one acting unprofessionally.
I call upon Your Worships to continue embracing hard work and integrity. The administration will continue to attend to your challenges and together, we shall transform the judiciary.
I once again reiterate that you should always be mindful of the principles of Independence, Impartiality, Integrity, Propriety, Equality, Competence and Diligence as enshrined in the Uganda Judicial Code of Conduct. Be guided by those principles in the performance of all your duties and you shall not go wrong.
I thank you for your kind attention. May God bless us all.
FOR GOD AND MY COUNTRY!
Flavian Zeija (PhD)