The Auditor General John Muwanga (pictured) has warned about the many cases that are sitting in courts gathering dust, saying it has left prisons overcrowded and condemned suspects to longer time in prisons.
Muwanga’s warning is contained in his February 2021 Auditor report to Parliament that he handed over to Speaker Kadaga on Thursday.
He said that a four year trend analysis of the schedule of cases under the office of the Directorate of Public Prosecution (DPP) shows that the number of cases increased from 1,993,572 to 2,373,861 cases registered during the year under review.
“I noted that only 168,286 cases were concluded through conviction, acquittal, withdrawal, dismissal and closed files and the number of outstanding unresolved cases stood at 2,205,147 at the close of the financial year.”
While scrutunising the constitutional amendment bill tabled by Paul Mwiru (Jinja East) who sought amendment to article 86 of the constitution to establish an Election Tribunal to handle election petitions, because of the failure by the Judiciary to dispose of cases within the stipulated 60days stipulated in the Parliamentary Elections Act.
Sarah Langa, Chief Registrar High Court, however rejected the proposal saying there is no serious justification that has been given to show that High Court has failed at its mandate and went on to cite the example in 2016 where over 100 elections petitions filed and court disposed of most of them within 60 days save for a few exceptional cases that are still pending.
She added that at the time the cases were filed, there were 41 judges at High Court but the number has since grown to 56.
However, her argument was rubbished by some MPs on the Legal Committee who castigated the Judiciary for failing to dispose of some election petitions that were filed in 2016, saying the delays partly explains calls like Mwiru to amend the constitution.
Veronica Elagu (Kaberamaido County) argued that election petitions are specialized cased and wondered why the Chief Registrar was dismissive of Mwiru’s call to establish an Election Tribunal to help deal with skyrocketing case backlog in the Judiciary.
“I thought that other than saying there is no appeal process, you would recommend that this quasi judicial tribunal and open up and leave a line of appeal process other than closing the door to the tribunal. This would relieve the high court from all this congestion and these cases,” said Elagu.
She continued: “You quoted statistics but the reality is different, this committee alone had 4 members with cases decided last year when we were going to the polls and as we sit now, we still have cases that haven’t been decided on. Why do we hang on what we can’t deliver?”
Chairperson Legal Committee Markson Oboth (West Budama South) Oboth said that elections are very emotive matters and there is need for parties in the petitions to know their fate and tasked her to come up with recommendations on how to solve case backlog without amending the constitution.
Oboth said, “I have gone through the same, you sleep and wake up, you dream the judge annulling your election, you see the eye of your opponent. Were the petitioners not available? Did the judges become sick or transferred? What makes those cases exceptional? That is the basis of suspicion.”
He added, “Some people are saying it could be administrative you are alluding to that now you have 56 judges, what guarantee do you give to Ugandans and this committee that the 56 judges would conclude all the election petitions within the prescribed period?”
In her response, Langa pushed the blame to Court of Appeal saying High Court executed its mandate on the election petitions, save for incidences where judges took on more files.
The Chief Registrar said, “The delays that have undermined the petition haven’t been majorly in the High Court and I believe that the practitioners here can attest to that that where the delays have been more significant have been at the Court of Appeal and there are reasons for that.”
Some of the MPs with pending elections petitions include Kato Lubwama (Rubaga South) and Muyanja Mbabali (Bukoto South) and they both lost in the 2021 general elections.