IGG expresses skepticism on new virtual courts

By Sania Babirye
The inspectorate of government Irene Mulyagonja has expressed skepticism in the the newly launched video conferencing system that was introduced by the judiciary on Monday this week.

The system was launched by the chief Justice Bart Katureebe and will see prisoners tried at Luzira prison without necessarily being present in a courtroom through an on screen video.

The trial jugde or magistrate will hold court sessions while at Buganda road court while being linked to suspects in Luzira prison .

However the IGG says that if not properly monitored, the technology will be used to abet corruption between judges and prison officials.

She says that the removal of the interface between the courts and the prisoner which will be left at the mercy of the prison officers to ensure that the suspects appear on the screens.

She said this while launching a corruption report by Legal aids Service provider’s network at Hotel African in Kampala.

Mulyagonja says that a clear monitoring system should be set at Luzira prison to see that all prisons gain equally in the system so that not only those who can pay bribes to prison officials and judges can have their cases listed.

She says that there is away the prisons carry out case lists which is unjust and affects some suspects by taking long to be produced before a judge or some fail to appear and with such a new technology if not monitored by the judiciary , many will be denied justice .

She also wants the judiciary to set up a place where those suspects who have complains with the system or are not getting fair justice can go report and have their concerns addressed.

Meanwhile Justice Mulyagonja says increasing salaries of public servants will not end corruption in Uganda unless there is a clear corruption strategy policy in all government bodies.

According to Mulyagonja, no amount of salary can ever be enough because people’s demands and needs increase every single day.

Sylvia Namubiru Mukasa the head of the network says corruption is on the increase in the country, yet nothing much is being done to fight.

According to the report, only the three justice law and order justice sector out of the 17 have customized the anti corruption strategy yet it was put into place seven years ago since its was launched in 2012.

These include the Uganda Human Rights commission, the Judiciary and the Uganda police.

It was set to enable the law and justice sectors of government to put in place mechanism to eliminate corruption in the country.

Namubiru says this gap could be due to lack of funds to set up the the anti corruption strategy.

She says that all the government institutions lack funding to implement the said strategy because there is no legal frame work to make them operationalised.

She says that issues like the chief justice who heads the judiciary having no powers to recruit or punish corrupt officers which powers are vested in the Director of Public prosecution or the IGG leaves him powerless despite having the internal mechanism .

She adds that the Judicial service commission or the police standards unit as administrative units make orders but such orders are not sufficient enough to end corruption.

On the 15th of aprim the Chief Justice, Bart Katureebe, commissioned a video conferencing system to Luzira Maximum Security Prison and Buganda Road court. Justice Katureebe called upon all judges and other stakeholders to see that the system is used to serve its purpose. He said that if fully used by judges to serve its purpose, they will see that the system is enrolled in all courts starting from the smallest (grade one courts) to the highest court (Supreme court).To see the whole system enrolled, this will cost government 12 billion shillings annually .

The facility will be used for the mentioning of criminal cases before they are fixed for trial. Justice Katureebe also operationalised two virtual courts that have been set up within the Luzira upper Prison male and female wings. According to Justice Geoffrey Kiryabwire of the court of appeal judge and also chair of the Judiciary’s technological committee , the facilities are satisfactory.

Justice Kiryabwire revealed that they will be needing 12 billion shillings for the next five years to see that the technology is enrolled in the whole country.

He said that this money will enable them to see that all courts in the country from the magistrate courts to the supreme court are connected to video conferencing.

He however said that right now the funding they are getting from ministry of finance is inadequate to allow their plans since they only received UGX6 billion which is about 50%.

He however said that he is hopeful that government will increase their.

He stated that the program is going to save suspects and Luzira prison officials the burden of coming to court even for short sessions like mentioning of case as it has been the case.

He also said that the public will also stop being inconvenienced through road closing by security personnel as it has been the case when key suspects are being brought to court.

According to Justice Kiryabwire, although proceedings like mentioning of cases takes a little time, however it has been costly in transporting suspects from Luzira prison to court were some of them have in the end escaped from court docks as it was the case in Masaka.

This means that the judge or magistrate will sit at Buganda road and mentions all cases through video conferencing with suspects at Luzira prison.

The lawyers will also have a chance to file their cases through Efilling without necessarily moving to court to file paper work as it has also been the case.

“We have entered the courts of the future in Uganda,” he said, adding: “Uganda is the first country in East Africa to set up courts inside a prison. Judiciary’s strategy is to revolutionize how justice is dispensed…Uganda is the first country in East Africa to set up courts inside a prison.”

“We are moving courts from buildings to services that are available to Ugandans who need them. With such a facility, people should be coming to the physical courts only for trials,” said Justice Kiryabwire

Hosted at the National Data Center under the National Information Technology Authority (NITA-U), the high-tech court conference facilities were recently installed both in the Luzira Prison and Buganda Road Chief Magistrates Court in Kampala.

The technology is designed to aid the mentioning of all criminal cases at Buganda Road Court involving accused persons on remand in Luzira Prison before their cases are fixed for trial.

Buganda Road Court will also handle related cases on behalf of the Magistrates Courts of Makindye, Nakawa, Nabweru, Law Development Center (LDC), Kira, City Hall, Nateete/Rubaga, Luzira, Kasangati and the Anti-Corruption Court.

NITA’s Executive Director, James Saaka, said the facility is designed to connect the courts beyond the geographical boundaries to provide faster administration of justice.

He said recordings from all court sessions will be safely kept in the National Backbone Infrastructure at the National Data Center.

The Officer in Charge of Luzira Upper Prison, Moses Sentalo, applauded the move.

“The system will save us the costs involved in the back and forth transportation of prisoners to courts as well as the stress that comes with moving high risk inmates. Imagine, transporting one inmate to court requires five prison officers handling different roles: driver, gunman, orderly, warder and supervisor).”

He said a team of Uganda Prisons staff have been trained to operate the facility and they are ready for the

The facilities will help among other things,

• Lower costs of prisons operations since preliminary stages of cases can be handled online.

• Minimise risks of transporting high profile prisoners as such cases will be handled online in the safety of Luzira Prisons.

• Ease access to information during court sessions since document sharing/storage will be electronic and will be accessed remotely by the concerned parties.

It will also reduce on the case backlog which has also brought about by suspects missing court sessions due to lack of transport.

The prisoner’s right’s will also be protected since they will no longer be chained as it has been while being transported in court.