Wednesday, August 27, 2014

New JLOS strategic plan is to create access to justice for all

By 2016/17, JLOS envisages to have delivered a legislative, policy and regulatory framework for effective justice and national development. The Justice, Law and Order Sector (JLOS) is now implementing its third 5-year Strategic Investment Plan that will run from 2012/13 to 2016/17. While JLOS will maintain due focus on the national legislative, policy and programming functions, the sector’s 17 institutions (as listed below) will shift their attention and resources in the next five years towards addressing operational constraints to service delivery in all civil, criminal and administrative justice. There will also be increased discussion, knowledge sharing and application of human rights in all the JLOS reforms. The SIPIII therefore is also intended to develop and fund special programmes to target gender, age, poverty and other forms of vulnerability and uphold human rights that broaden the definition of justice beyond the formal justice systems. According to Senior Technical Adviser at the JLOS Secretariat Paul Gadenya,under SIP III, JLOS will deepen reforms by tackling the growing concerns of accountability and human rights observance through standard setting; compliance check through Peer Review mechanisms and full implementation of the Sector Anti-Corruption Strategy among others. Gadenya says the Sector will also consolidate its management systems and structures,implement a Sect or Management Policy and continue to innovate, generate knowledge and set pace for justice reforms in the East African Community (EAC) and the entire Africa. By the end of the SIP III in 2016/17, it’s envisaged that JLOS will have delivered to all people in Uganda the following key three results: A legislative, policy and regulatory framework conducive to JLOS operations; promoting rule of law and human rights and enabling national development. By 2017,JLOS expects more people, particularly the poor and vulnerable groups, to have better access to justice and to be living in a safer and secure environment. “There will be more JLOS institutions that are responsive to human rights, and are more accountable to service users and the public. As a result, it’s expected that 70% of the population will be satisfied with JLOS services by 2016/17and public confidence in the justice system will increase by 47% from the current 34 per cent to 50 per cent,” says Gadenya. Rachel Odoi Musoke the adviser land and commercial justice noted that the primary sector goal under SIP III is to promote the rule of law and fundamental to this goal is the establishment and sustenance of a legislative, policy and regulatory framework cognizant of human rights and conducive to national development. Ms.Musoke says JLOS under SIP III is committed to accelerating access to justice for all particularly the vulnerable. “This will include bottom-up measures to empower people in Uganda to assert their rights and demand their entitlements from JLOS institutions,” she says. The Sector will also maintain promotion of a human rights and accountability culture throughout JLOS institutions as a sustainable response to raise public confidence in JLOS services. The SIP III focus in the next five years is to enhance performance of JLOS institutions to deliver three results: A rights based policy, legal and regulatory framework for its operations, national economic growth, employment and prosperity; improved access to JLOS services for all particularly the vulnerable and enhanced human rights observance and institutional accountability. Commercial justice In a determined effort to ensure all Ugandans access justice and thus promote respect for human rights and rule of law and order, the SIP III strategic focus in the next five years will ensure the strengthening of three key semi-autonomous and one-stop units for business dispute resolution which include Centre for Arbitration and Dispute Resolution (CADER); Uganda Registration Services Bureau (URSB) for business registration services and Directorate of Citizenship and Immigration among others. The creation of these centres has greatly improved enforcement of contracts in Uganda with the country’s international ranking rising to 110thin 2011. Ease of Starting Business in Uganda also improved to 143rd position in 2011.Thisis evidenced by the fact that starting a limited liability company in Uganda now takes 45 minutes to conduct a search in the registries; less than 12 hours to register the company and equally less time to register patents, trademarks and other business instruments. Uganda’s overall Doing Business 2011 ranking is 122ndrecording a 7-point increase from last year. The most significant increase was recorded in the Getting Credit Indicator, where the country jumped 63 spots. Similarly the Ease of Accessing Travel Permits improved from 34 days in 2000 to 10 days in 2010 for passports and from 3 months to 21 days for work permits. The Governmental Analytical Laboratory under the Ministry of Internal Affairs improved its service time from an average of 6months in 2005/6 to 3 months 2010/11. In effect, 70% of the Uganda’s rural population can now traverse shorter distances and access JLOS services in close proximity to each other unlike the situation in 2000. Activity Lead time 2005/06 Lead time 2010/11 Processing a Passport 30 days 10days Processing a Work permit 90days 21days Clearance at borders 15minutes 5minutes Forensic analysis 6months 3months Peruse files for prosecution 14days 2days Register a Company 30days 48hours JLOS has also registered improvements in speed of access to services offered by participating institutions such as Tax Appeals Tribunal, Government Analytical Laboratory Services; Uganda Human Rights Commission; Directorate of Public Prosecutions; Criminal Investigations Directorate of the Uganda Police Force and its special units of Family and Child Protection and NGO registration. Ms.Musoke says that with JLOS placing emphasis on the promotion of alternative dispute resolution mechanisms, the cost of accessing JLOS services has significantly reduced. In the Commercial Division of the High Court, a mediation registry has been established. Coupled with other ongoing reforms in the Division, case backlog reduced from 44% in 2009 to 34% in 2010. Specialized services in the Commercial Court, Anti Corruption Court; Internal Crimes Division (ICD); Land and Family Divisions of the High Court have enabled JLOS increase its case disposal rates from 30.7% for commercial cases in 2007/08 to 48.8% in 2009/10. Musokesays the Commercial Court Division initiated a mediation pilot project and developed its special rules in 2006 to speed up the process of resolving commercial disputes. “We now have a process where all cases filed at the Commercial Court first go for mediation to give parties a chance to resolve the matters themselves. It helps to reduce the cases for judges, reduces costs for the litigants and saves time. It has reduced case backlog. The Centre for Mediation with a registrar has been setup and 20 lawyers have been trained in mediation processes,” MsMusoke says. This approach to resolving disputes without going through the formal court system is also set to be rolled out to the Family, Land and Civil court divisions where a mandatory mediation programme will be introduced . According to Musoke there has been innovations in the use of Information and Communication Technology in the Commercial Court and the High Court up-country circuits. “The introduction of ICT in our courts has also greatly helped to speed up the hearing of cases since judges record proceedings using tape recorders instead of writing them on paper as the case was in the past. The recordings also come in handy for transcription for those who want to appeal judgements of the lower courts to the superior appellate courts. In the Commercial Court a small claims procedure with simplified rules of procedure for small claims of below Shs50m is also being implemented. Musoke says a team of experts is revising and updating the Civil Procedure rules. “We want to make the rules user friendly and simpler and thus break away from some technical barriers in accessing justice. The revised rules will be finalised in the next financial year”. The adjudication of corruption cases has also improved with successful prosecution of corrupt people in the newly created Anti-Corruption High Court Division leading to an increased number of convictions. Land Justice Land is a key strategic resource to Uganda’s population and is a core primary factor of agricultural production, ecosystem stability, and climate resilience. Prevalence of land conflicts at household level is high at 34.9% and is slightly higher amongst rural households(36%) compared to urban households (33%). Only 20% of land conflicts are not reported to any dispute resolution option. With a dispute resolution rate of 59.9% for land conflicts at first instance and an average dissatisfaction rate of only 13.3 % the land justice system is rated fair. Though the majority of cases are handled in semi-formal fora, the sector needs to strengthen oversight and set standards while clarifying mandates of the different fora. In addition to the Land Division of the High Court, Musoke says a new Land Magistrate’s Court has been set up at Nakawa where magistrates have been designated to specifically deal with land matters. “We are also re-examining the Land Tribunal structures to make them functional. The Land Tribunals faced some challenges because of their composition where the chairpersons were not from the same district as the other members. Since the chairpersons were conducting business in more than five districts each, the tribunals could not in most cases convene due to lack of quorum which could not be realised without the chairman in attendance,”Musoke explains. There was also a problem of inadequate funding due to the increased number of districts from 65 at the time the Land Tribunals were set up to 112 today. The creation of new districts increased the costs drastically. The tribunals also suffered other problems such as poor record keeping, poor quality andproduction of judgments as most of the tribunal committee members had limited or no knowledge about land law. In some other cases, Musoke points out, the tribunals were dispensing popular justice rather than substantive justice. “We are now trying to rectify some of these issues to reduce the backlog of land cases. Why we are looking at alternative systems of justice to complement the existing formal justice system in resolving land conflicts across the country,” she says. She says alternative dispute resolution through informal justice system or community justice and customary tenure where elders play a central role in resolving conflicts will be encouraged. JLOS will also strengthen the Local Council Courts and how they link to the formal courts of judicature. A study to enable these alternative informal justice systems handle criminal matters like it is done in South Africa and Canada is ongoing. It’s a new area being studied under the JLOSSIP III. Challenges facing the sector Despite the tremendous progress made in the delivery of justice, a number of challenges still exist as JLOS continues with the implementation of the SIP III. The challenges include access to legal information on rights. One of the key mandates of the Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs is dissemination of legal information to the public. Popularization of the laws and massive education of the public on their constitutional rights and legal protections are part of the process of entrenchment of the rule of law entrusted to JLOS. This is a marginally discharged role by the sector. Presently, there is no comprehensive system of simplification and dissemination of laws to the population and also to the justice actors. Legal and rights awareness among the population served by JLOS institutions is still low. Procedures of access and mechanisms to obtain redress remain largely unknown to the users. This limits the demand side ability to assert and claim their due entitlements from the JLOS system. “Levels of knowledge and empowerment of users to access JLOS services will be prioritized in SIP III. JLOS is mandated to bring the legal and policy framework to popular appeal within which all people including the poor and marginalised groups may assert their rights. There is a problem of public awareness. We are investing in that area for people to understand their rights at all levels. There is knowing the law but when you don’t know the processes such as bail. People don’t know that bail is a conditional release of suspects to continue reporting to courts until their cases are decided by the judicial officers. Civic education, public awareness is key since people also need to know their obligations to ensure the rule of law and to build a culture of respect of law and order,” Musoke says. Institutional barriers to access to JLOS services: Attempts to improve access in the last two SIPs have increased physical access to the office of the Administrator General. There is need to address technical, cost and related barriers to access the services of the Administrator General, Directorate of Citizenship and Immigration; Uganda Registration Services Bureau; NGO Registration Services; National Identification and Uganda Human Rights Commission. There is also a problem of under-funding of the sector. One of the biggest challenges is training. Musoke says a lot training has been carried out among the various stakeholders but reiterates that a lot more people have training needs especially in the Local Council courts. The Local Council courts need specialized training in areas like land, natural resources, gas and oil management. “Corruption is another challenge; but we have developed an anti- corruption strategy to deal with detection, prevention and punishment of corruption tendencies within the sector. We have the Law Council, Judicial Service Commission and the Performance Standards which are all meant to deal with issues of corruption,” Musoke says.