East Africa

Uganda: 200 Land Cases Cleared in September

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A record nine cases are disposed of each day, court officials say. According to the Land Division Registrar, Alex Ajiji, the faster dispensation of justice has tremendously cut the case backlog. In August, 149 cases were cleared and another 202 files closed last month, bringing the grand total to 451 cases resolved in two months.

"This is an enormous achievement so far; two hundred cases in one month is a record in our justice system," said Ajiji, in reference to the September milestone.

Previously, the land division was understaffed, with only three judges; Owinyi Dollo, Joseph Murangira and Opio Aweri, dealing with thousands of cases, piled up over the last 30 years. But in July, these were joined by eight new judges; Elizabeth Kabanda, Eva Luswata, Wilson Kwesiga, Monica Mugyenyi, Damalie Lwanga and Andrew Bashaija.

The division contributed heavily to the case backlog. It was one of the worst-performing departments of the High court, ahead of the Family, Commercial, Anti-Corruption courts. According to records, there are 20,377 unresolved land cases, some filed as early as 1980s. According to the 2012/13 ministry of justice and constitutional affairs report, there were 163,992 unresolved cases.

The recently-appointed judges dismissed many of the older cases after realizing that some of the parties had either lost interest or lacked evidence.

However, the ministry of Lands spokesman, Denis Obbo, is more cautious.

"We are still concerned about the backlog there [High court] but the good thing is the land policy has recommended that [Land] tribunals be reinstated and placed under the ministry of Lands," Obbo said.

In 2007, land tribunals were suspended and all cases before them were transferred to the magistrate's courts. Land tribunals encourage arbitration between parties locked in land disputes. People resort to courts when arbitration fails.

A study by Human Rights Network blamed an increase in mob justice across the country on delayed judgments in land disputes. The majority of respondents interviewed in the survey felt, 'justice is moving too slowly and more people resorted to taking matters in their own hands."

While appreciating the figures, Nicolas Opiyo, the Secretary of the Uganda Law Society, concurs, noting: Arbitration and mediation are now compulsory in all justice departments, and it's the way to go."

Opiyo says there is an urgent need to rejuvenate the lowest justice systems like LC1 courts, which should dispose of minor cases as well as support the tribunals and other higher justice fora.

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