The Chief Justice Alfonse Owiny-Dollo has revealed plans to establish a specialized Court to handle environmental matters that have become a challenge in both local and International arenas.
Justice Owiny-Dollo noted that cases of wetland encroachment, poaching, hazardous waste disposal, interference with the eco-system and depleting critical flora are some of the key concerns to be managed.
This was during the Annual General meeting of judicial officers under Uganda Judicial Officers Association which was conducted via zoom.
The Chief Justice was represented by his Deputy Richard Buteera, who reported that the Judiciary Administration is working hard to ensure that Administration of the Judiciary Act is operationalized to the benefit of the judicial officers adding that so far sound progress is being made for the court users also to benefit through improved access to justice.
Justice Buteera explained that following the closure of the Execution and Bailiff’s Division of High Court in 2020, the plans are underway to start the Environmental Division which environmentalists have always demanded.
Uganda will become the second country in East Africa to establish an environment court. Currently Kenya has an environment and land court. Both have the powers of High court.
The decision to establish an environment court comes just two months after the Eat Africa Court of Justice trained judges and judicial officers on environment and environment-related litigation.
The training which took place in Kigali Rwanda was on the judiciary in promoting the rule of law and environmental justice for sustainable development in East Africa.
Among the expectations were the need for improved understanding of the critical role of judges and judicial officers in the development, enforcement and compliance with environmental laws as well as its challenges.
The judges and judicial officers were to come up with an agreement on the process to develop and define a reporting mechanism on the performance of national judiciaries in the East and Horn of Africa towards the implementation of SDG16.
Justice systems around the world face obstacles to settling environmental cases quickly and fairly, whether from corruption, drawn-out trials or judges who lack understanding of environmental issues.
Specialized environmental courts have emerged as an important defense against human-caused destruction of the environment. China has over 300 environmental courts.
Executive Director Africa Institute For Energy Governance, Dickens Kamugisha welcomed the development but doubted whether with in Uganda’s judiciary given challenges like corruption and lack of resources.
According to the speech of Chief Justice, the institution’s budget has been increased from about 191 billion shillings to 318 billion shillings for the financial year 2021/2022.
The Chief Justice intimated that budgetary enhancement will help in recruitment of more judicial officers, enhancement of staff welfare and establishment of Chief Magistrate Court at each district level, Magistrate Grade One at each constituency level, more High Court circuits and decentralization of Court of Appeal across the country as they push for more funding.
He also said a number of areas have identified for reforms in order to promote access to justice which include review of Court bailiff’s rules, Court of Appeal rules, Court Bail Guidelines, Court fees rules, appellate Mediation rules and Amicus Curiae practice directions.
The Judiciary also plans to enhance jurisdiction of magistrate Court in a bid to enhance access to justice and to reduce case backlog.
The Chief Justice noted that magistrate are soon running out of work given the escalating inflatable levels and the current market values of products citing an example that an average motor vehicle goes for about 50 million shillings while a 50×100 plot of land in the suburb of any city costs about 50 million shillings yet the majority of magistrates can only handle cases involving up to 20 million shillings.
In this current financial year Judiciary further intends to operationalize Luweero High Court to bring services near to the people of Luweero, Nakasongola and Nakaseke districts who have been trekking up Kampala to access High Court Services for all the years.
On her part the Chief Registrar Sarah Langa warned judicial officers against absenteeism, corruption, disunity violation of the judicial code of conduct.
However, the UjOA President Justice Tadeo Asiimwe used the zoom meeting to reiterate the demands for improved transport means and security guards for all the judicial officers, an issue that has always featured prominently in the past meetings.