Chief Justice Alfonse Chigamoy Owiny-Dollo has warned the newly appointed Chief Magistrates regarding the imposition of unreasonable conditions on bail applications. Speaking through Justice Mike Chibita, who represented him during the inauguration of new chief magistrates at Collin Hotel-Mukono, the Chief Justice expressed his concern over judicial officers denying bail on unjustifiable grounds, leading to unnecessary imprisonment.
Justice Dollo pointed out that the increased number of judicial officers across the country has placed additional pressure on the prison services.
“Ensure timely delivery judgments and reasonably dealing with bail applications. Bail should not be unreasonably denied by imposing impossible terms, but the Court must always guard against absconding. Accused persons due for mandatory release should be timely processed and sent to the High Court for action,” Justice Dollo said.
He also called on chief magistrates to actively fulfill their statutory responsibility of supervising subordinate courts within their jurisdictions.
Currently, the country has 91 chief magistrates and 366 Grade I Magistrates. “This inevitably calls for your deliberate effort to mentor, supervise, and appraise this substantial force. You must lessen the burden of the Chief Registrar by dedicating sufficient time and effort towards this cause. I heavily bank on you as my combatants in the fight against corruption, laziness, and inefficiency,” he said.
Similarly, Principal Judge Flavian Zeija cautioned judicial officers against both perceived and actual corrupt practices. He highlighted instances where some judicial officers solicit bribes in exchange for favorable decisions or orders. Zeija also addressed concerns about the process of securing bail, particularly in magistrates’ courts. He revealed complaints about the requirement of “bail money” to expedite the bail process, suggesting that this practice is contrary to the principles of justice.
“It is therefore, absurd that in this day and age, a judicial officer who is well-remunerated can afford to stoop so low as to require an impoverished court user to sell his or her only goat or other little possession, in order to pay way out on bail or get any other favorable court decision or order in his or her favor,” Justice Zeija noted.
He noted that corrupt practices tarnish the image of the judiciary, portraying it as favoring the wealthy while hindering access to justice for the less privileged. “This begins with you as an individual and must extend to the Magistrates Grade 1 and support staff under your supervision. In the end, you should have only your conscience to judge you as to how you want to be branded– whether as a thief or as an honest man or woman of justice,” he said.
A group of 20 chief magistrates is currently undergoing training until the following Tuesday. These magistrates were recruited earlier in the year. The training, led by Justice Damalie Lwanga, Executive Director of the Judicial Training Institute, focuses on enhancing their capacity to perform their duties effectively.