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Community engagement emphasized in Kitgum Open Court Day

Chief Justice Owiny Dollo inspects a stall during the Open Court Day in Kitgum

Gulu, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | Judicial officers in Uganda have been urged to increase their engagement with the community to bridge the gap between the legal system and citizens, and to simplify court processes. This call was made during the open court day held at the Kitgum Magistrate’s premises, focusing on the theme: “Demystifying Court Processes.”

Chief Justice Alfonse Owiny Dollo, present at the event, highlighted the need to break down the perceived barriers between judicial officers and the public. Jimmy Ssegawa Ebil, the Resident District Commissioner of Kitgum district, pointed out that citizens often view judicial officers as distant figures, causing confusion in legal redress procedures.

This lack of understanding can lead to complaints being filed in the wrong offices. Ebil suggested that judicial officers leverage radio broadcasts to educate the public about court processes and alternative justice systems, enabling citizens to navigate legal dilemmas more effectively.

He also appealed for the establishment of more community-based courts to improve access to justice, citing instances where clients must travel over 100 kilometers to reach a court due to limited local options.

Patrick Ojara, the Resident Senior State Attorney of Kitgum, shared that there were 23 registered capital offenses at the court, with aggravated defilement cases making up a significant portion.

However, Ebil clarified that this number might be higher due to the costs associated with distance and other complexities, causing some individuals to abandon their pursuit of justice.

Community members also voiced their concerns and suggestions. Abraham Aturu, a resident, called for the sensitization of lawyers to approach cases with honesty, truthfulness, and compassion, promoting the use of mediation where applicable to save litigants from excessive expenses.

Chief Justice Alfonse Owiny Dollo emphasized the importance of ongoing engagement between the justice sector and the community. He stressed the necessity of collaboration among all stakeholders, including judicial officers, police, prison officers, and legal education institutions, to create a more cohesive and approachable legal environment.

Dollo pledged his commitment to making justice more accessible, comparing it to fetching water from a well. He revealed plans to establish chief magistrate’s courts in every district and grade one magistrate’s courts in every constituency.

Additionally, Dollo announced that Kitgum district is set to receive a High Court, which will alleviate the case backlog and reduce expenses associated with seeking justice in the Gulu High Court Circuit.

Justice Philip Odoki, the Gulu High Court Resident Judge, acknowledged the challenges of managing a wide region with limited resources. Despite handling over 3,000 cases, Odoki noted that the Gulu High Court Circuit, which covers nine districts and one city, operates with only two high court judges, four chief magistrates, and thirteen grade one magistrates, leading to delays in case resolution.

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