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Arua High Court Commits to Clear Criminal Backlog by End of Year
(L-R): Hon. Justice Serunkuma, Hon. Justice Egonda-Ntende and Mr. Gimara at Arua High Court
The Arua High Court circuit has committed to clearing criminal backlog and clearance of backlog of miscellaneous applications by the end of this year. 

The commitment was made on Monday by the Resident Judge, Hon. Justice Isah Serunkuma in Arua while presenting a detailed plan on how the court will fight backlog to the Case Backlog Monitoring Committee.

It was reported to the Committee which was headed by Court of Appeal Justice, Hon. Justice Fredrick Egonda-Ntende that out of the 1,236 cases pending at the Court, 900 were classified as backlog. About 252 criminal matters of the 900 await court hearing, 27 are criminal appeals while 25 are Criminal Miscellaneous Applications. 

Hon. Justice Serunkuma also indicated that an additional 155 applications will be dealt with in the course of the year. 

One of the main major challenges the court faces are the discrepancies in both the manual register and digital records on the Court Case Administration System. To this, Hon. Justice Egonda-Ntende urged the court to work at fully migrating to a digital record and maintain one register. 

Adding that if the Judge handles five files per day, it would take about five minutes to enter the result of the day's proceedings online. Adding He also stressed that this was is the job of the clerks to ensure that the data is entered into the system promptly.

The Backlog team that included Senior Counsel, Mr. Francis Gimara and the Judiciary Technical Advisor, Mr Andrew Khaukha, urged the court to come up with a costed work plan geared at reducing backlog at the station.

Hon. Justice Serunkuma raised a concern on the need for training of stakeholders on the recently issued court rules of procedure which include; the Civil Procedure Rules, Judicial Review Rules, Rules on Adjournment, Recusal, among others. Hon. Justice Egonda-Ntende committed to bring this to the attention of the Principal Judge.

Reports from Magisterial Areas
At the meeting attended by Judicial Officers from the different magisterial areas, HW Dr Daniel Lubowa, the Ag. Deputy Registrar and Chief Magistrate of Arua, Koboko and Yumbe, reported that since February 2020, he had concluded 508 cases in different categories.

The Ag. Chief Magistrate Nebbi, HW Robert Mukanza, on his part reported that there were 94 backlogged matters at Nebbi. While HW Hillary Kiwanuka, the Magistrate Grade One for Yumbe said that out of the 391 pending cases at his court, 65 were categorized as backlog. 

For the case of Packwach, Magistrate Grade One, HW Richard Wananda, reported that the Court which was upgraded into a Grade One court in 2020 has 280 pending files with no backlog. 

On the other hand, HW Asiku Swalleh, who presented a report on behalf of Moyo Chief Magistrates Court, reported that Moyo had 33 backlogged cases. Of these, 24 were before the Chief Magistrate while nine were before the Magistrate Grade One. 

Using the session system of cause-listing cases and weeding out sessions were among the strategies the courts intend to use to clear the backlog. "So far, Applications have been sorted according to their years of backlog and cause listed for hearing, whereby six cases are scheduled daily for hearing and submissions are being given orally, and instant rulings are given, thereby fixing their main suits," Hon. Justice Serunkuma disclosed.  
"However, for the case of the temporary / Interim injunctions, an officer is sent to the ground to give the status as it is then, thereafter the status quo is maintained, resulting in a ruling for the same and fixing of the main suit," he added.  

The court has so far generated several cause-lists to guide their backlog-free quest. 

Despite the plans in place, Hon. Justice Serunkuma said the court still faces a setback of intermittent power supply and, inadequate funding which has affected service delivery. "Although we got funds this year and were able to conclude 120 cases...in areas like Moyo, we last had a criminal session there in 2017, the number of committals from Moyo and Adjumani stands at 80..." 

The Judicial Officers also requested for an upward revision of operation funds to ably facilitate the various court activities. 
However, Mr Gimara noted that as a Committee they were looking at what could be done within the available resources. Stating that for the case of Arua, there was no need to hold special sessions as workload could easily be handled within normal work routine with adequate planning.

On how to deal with lawyers who ask for unnecessary adjournments, Mr Gimara advised the judicial officers to always set the pace in their courts. "Judicial officers are like deejays, whatever tune they play is what the lawyers will follow. If it is slow, fast or no tune, that is what the lawyers, will respond to," he advised. 

In regard to the challenge of ICT penetration, Hon. Justice Egonda-Ntende reassured the Judicial Officers that the Electronic Court Case Management Information System (ECCMIS) was on its way and they should prepare for it.

He shared that ahead of the deployment of ECCMIS, users will be trained and given the requisite hardware and software. "There is going to be a huge shift in how services are delivered," Hon. Justice Egonda-Ntende said.
Posted 19th, May 2021
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