• Francis Obonyo
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Is the FINANCIAL AUTONOMY of the Judiciary the key to ensuring swift access to Justice in Uganda?

For decades, the aspect of Judicial independence in Uganda, especially with regards to finances, has only been a theory mentioned and written by scholars. The state of independence in itself connotes the ability to be self-sustaining and self-accountable. This has not been the case for the Judiciary in Uganda for a long time now. The good news is that financial autonomy is no longer a wish for the Judiciary because enormous steps have been taken to free the Judiciary. In the wake of June, following the tireless efforts of Civil Society Organizations that came together and formed a coalition in support of the independence of the Judiciary (CEPIL, Uganda Law Society, LASPNET, FIDA Uganda, Anti-corruption Coalition, Foundation for Human Rights Initiative and Chapter Four Uganda), Parliament passed the Administration of the Judiciary Bill. The purpose of this Bill is to operationalize Chapter 8 of the Constitution of the Republic of Uganda by explicitly emphasizing the independence of the Judiciary while carrying out its duties. In the recent past, anything to do with finances in the Judiciary has been handled by the Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs, which is an executive body, raising several questions on the doctrine of separation of powers. This sparked many discussions as to whether the Judiciary is independent, given that the Ministry controls its finances. The trend in Uganda is that the two arms of government, that is, the Executive and the Legislature, control their finances. When the budget is passed, money apportioned to those arms is directly received by the same; this, however, is not the case when it comes to the Judiciary. Research on the performance of the Judiciary has often shown that decisions are easily made out of influence from those who have the financial muscle. In coming up with solutions, therefore, to deal with issues of external influence and case backlog, the Judiciary vouched to have its money directed to them. The Bill comes in at a time when the Judiciary is facing issues of case backlog, shortage of human resources in the form of judicial officers, and inadequate infrastructure. The million-dollar question then is whether being financially independent is the missing link to improved access to Justice and reduced case backlog? I guess we take the back seat and wait for how this plays out.
In my opinion, with more power comes great responsibility. In this case, the Judiciary needs to be accountable for the autonomy it is being granted, most notably with the incidences of corrupt Judicial officers being reported. It now falls upon the Judiciary to leverage this autonomy to ensure swift access to Justice.
Anek Trinity Daisy,
Knowledge and law Development Officer CEPIL