Court of Appeal session starts in Arua

Court of Appeal session starts in Arua

By Andrew Cohen Amvesi

ARUA. Court of Appeal has kicked off hearing of criminal cases in Arua High Court circuit as a way of reducing case backlog.

The two-day session that started on Monday (November 20, 2023) was flagged by Justice Richard Buteera, the Deputy Chief Justice of the Republic of Uganda.

A total of 31 criminal appeals are being handled by the Court of Appeal and these include; 15 murder cases, 3 robbery cases and 13 defilement cases.

The session is presided over by a coram of three Justices namely, Lady Justice Irene Mulyagonja, Justice Geoffrey Kiryabwire and Lady Justice Eva Luswata.

Court of Appeal Justices are joined by Judicial Officers in Arua in a group photo at Arua High Court on Monday. Photo by Andrew Cohen Amvesi

During the opening ceremony at Arua High Court, Justice Collins Acellam, the Arua High Court Judge commended the Justices of the Court of Appeal for bringing services nearer to the people.

“We also want to take this opportunity as an experience to enable us to learn. Appellant process is the process by which we correct some of the mistakes that happen in the lower bench, and we shall take this opportunity seriously and learn from it so that next time when we come for the Court of Appeal session we have less work,” Acellam said.

Speaking on behalf of the Uganda Law Council members of the Northern region, Jimmy Madira of Madira and Co. Advocates said such sessions matter a lot to them and also to the clients they represent.

“Most of these sessions have been centralized. They have been held in Kampala for a very long time and most of the advocates find it difficult to participate but because of bringing them closer to the region, we have had the opportunity to participate in these sessions and we are therefore very grateful to the Court of Appeal,” Madira said.

Madira, however, noted that Arua circuit is a big one stretching from Pakwach to Adjumani and as a result, it makes it very difficult for litigants to access the courts in the region.

Counsel Madira speaking on behalf of his colleagues before Court of Appeal Justices on Monday. Photo by Andrew Cohen Amvesi

“We also have an appeal to make, basically, the appeal is that you should not stop at criminal sessions, we also invite this Honorable Court to extend civil sessions to this region. There are so many cases and many of the litigants in this region may not be able to afford and retain advocates to go for civil sessions in Kampala but if these sessions are brought the way we are doing this criminal session, at least it will go a long way in reducing case backlogs,” Madira said.

But Justice Kiryabwire said the workload of the Court of Appeal is very heavy, adding they are in excess of 8,000 matters.

“So, when we come here, I think you can see what it means to bring a team over here,” Kiryabwire noted.

He urged people to try to resolve disputes among themselves so that court becomes the last option for them to go to.

“Even though there are fairly low numbers in this region, we would like to urge you to try to resolve disputes yourselves, let the courts be a final destination. Even as an appeal has been made that we should also consider having civil sessions, we would like to encourage you to also consider what we call alternative dispute resolution. Try to mediate some of these disputes, try to negotiate and come to an amicable resolution of your disputes,” Kiryabwire said.“

Court of Appeal Justices pose for a group photo with West Nile Bar members shortly after the openning ceremony on Monday. Photo by Andrew Cohen Amvesi
Court of Appeal Justices pose for a group photo with West Nile Bar members shortly after the openning ceremony on Monday. Photo by Andrew Cohen Amvesi

In this regard, for us at the Court of Appeal, we are making an appeal to the Bar to support this process and you can also make money by not going to court. I also want to announce that we are now running a fairly strong appellant mediation process in the Court of Appeal. If any of you has a civil matter on appeal that has taken time, please register your matter here in Arua and then we can arrange to process it through Kampala,” Kiryabwire advised.

Similarly, Justice Luswata observed that plea bargaining is very successful nowadays but she implored the Bar, the Prosecution and Judges to follow the proper procedures.

“People are submitting to plea bargains and then we get appeals against plea bargains and then we have to reverse because they have made a choice to bargain their sentence, really it should stop there. When it comes to appeal, we can say you decided on that sentence then we shouldn’t be reversing it but sometimes we are forced to because the procedure was not properly followed,” Luswata said.

In his remarks, Justice Buteera said for the Judiciary, their position is that if they are to deal with case backlog, one of the starting points is having enough Judicial Officers, enough Lawyers for the Law Society, for the Attorney General Chambers and for the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions.

He further stated that despite the challenge of inadequate staffing, they are improving and as they improve, let judicial officers focus on quality of work.

“We were last here on July 7, 2022, we are coming back now at the end of 2023. Probably the expertise you acquired is from that experience that you face each other in these sessions. Your first duty as a lawyer is to study and keep on reading, you will then improve. I will therefore urge you to study the judgments of the Court of Appeal, use them to improve so that when we come back next year, the discussion will be different,” Buteera advised.

He noted that for the time being, they will not be able to extend civil sessions upcountry apart from criminal sessions until the court grows.

“As Justice Kiryabwire and others have said, we think alternative dispute resolution mechanisms in both civil and criminal cases will handle much of the backlog we have,” Buteera stated.

Currently, there are 4,174 prisoners of which 20 are children, 13 debtors and 7 condemned prisoners in 11 units (prisons) in the West Nile region under Arua High Court Circuit.

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