JUDICIARY Latest Features

CJ Launches Video Conferencing System to Luzira Prison
Hon. Justice Bart Katureebe (Standing) during the commissioning ceremony at Buganda CM Court

KAMPALA: The Chief Justice, Hon. Justice Bart M. Katureebe, on Monday April 15, 2019 commissioned virtual courts where inmates and witnesses off-site can attend court through video conferencing.

The system will connect magistrates to Luzira prison's virtual courts fitted at the male and women's wings using video conferencing facilities. Each of the courts is fitted with virtual servers, big flat screens and cameras to relay sound and video.

A visibly excited Chief Justice said the innovation was writing history in the administration of justice in Uganda. Adding that the vision of current Judiciary Information and Communication Technology Strategy is e-justice for all.

"This Video Conferencing System will efficiently and easily connect judges, parties,interpreters and law enforcement officers, and will implement effective communication between them through high-definition video display and excellent audio quality," he said.

The Chief Justice added, "Currently there are about 372 prisoners on remand at Luzira Prison whose cases need mention with courts in the Kampala, Mpigi and Mukono Magisterial areas. The logistical burden of delivering these prisoners just for a short mention need not be over-emphasized," Hon. Justice Katureebe said.

"With just a single judicial officer at Buganda Road, a good number of these mentions can be aggregated before a single magistrate linked by video to prisoners in Luzira prison."

This facility will work for not only cases at Buganda Road Court but also for other magistrate's courts in Kampala and Wakiso, such as the Mengo court, Makindye,Nakawa, Nabweru, Law Development Centre (LDC), Kira, City Hall, Nateete/Rubaga,Luzira, Kasangati and the Anti-Corruption Court. This will aid the mentioning of all criminal cases involving accused persons on remand in Luzira Prison before their cases are fixed for trial.

Prisons Embraces New Prison Courts

Speaking at the same function, the Commissioner General of Prisons, Dr. Johnson Byabashaija said they have been using a lot of money in transporting inmates to and from court, noting that with the new virtual courts, this money can be saved.

"I expect to significantly reduce the costs of transporting inmates to court because every year we use about Shs 1.7 billion for fuel and maintenance yet itis only half of what is required," Dr. Byabashaija said while speaking from the virtual court at Luzira Maximum Security Prison. The new courts within prison are the first of its kind in East Africa.

Dr Byabashaija said with video conferencing, the courts would now be able to handle more hearings per day in a quicker and more efficient manner. 

He also noted that the system would enhance security. "This is particularly convenient in multi-defendant cases involving a group of prisoners. Depending on the nature of their case, their physical presence in the courtroom may be dangerous for their escorts and general public." Adding that the system is a solution to human rights issues considering that accused persons and prisons staff are not fed while at court.

Solution to Delays

The Principal Judge, Hon. Justice Dr Yorokamu Bamwine, said the video conferencing system would improve the performance of the courts if well utilized. "If we can attend to the needs of prisoners without us going to them or them coming to us, I am sure the reduced travel time and costs will go a long way in improving our performance."

He stated that the ICT platform was merely an enabler and that the Judicial Officers needed to use their "natural brain power" in deciding cases. Adding that justice needs to be administered with a human touch.

The head of Judiciary's Technology Committee, Court of Appeal's Hon. Justice Geoffrey Kiryabwire said the initiative would make courts more interactive with the ultimate goal of creating efficiency and smartly addressing case backlog.

He added that it is not going to be business as usual, as courts are changing from buildings to services.

Improved Adjudication

Uganda Law Society vice-president Ms. Phiona Nabaasa said the system would help improve prosecution and bring access to justice to the people. Prosecution skills and record keeping will also improve, she added.

"We have gaps in witness protection. There is no law to protect the witnesses.Therefore, this new system will help narrow this gap," she said upon hearing that the system could be used to distort a witnessís voice and hide their faces.

Mr. Charles Kaamuli, an Assistant Director of Public Prosecutions said the system had come at a time when his office is already embracing technology.

They are already using the audio-visual system, launched last year, to handle cases of sexual and gender-based violence, but asked that the two systems be intermarried to facilitate information sharing.

Projections

Mr. James Saaka, the Executive Director of National Information Technology Authority(NITA), which is hosting the technology, said that by May this year, they would have rolled out internet connectivity in hard-to-reach areas such as Karamoja and West Nile so that video conferencing is also available there.

He said the data recorded through this new system would be stored at the National Data Centre in Kampala, noting that they have the capacity to provide any amount of internet speed the Judiciary will require.

Mr. Saaka pledged NITA - U's commitment to helping the Judiciary implement its ICT strategy to improve service delivery.

Mr.Kenneth Ntulume, the ICT consultant of the project explained that videoconferencing involves a live, visual connection between two or more people residing in separate locations for the purpose of communication. It provides transmission of full-motion video images and high-quality audio between multiple locations.

Posted 17th, April 2019
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