Makindye Court Incident: Revisiting the role of the Public in the Administration of Justice

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On Wednesday 11th August 2016, Makindye Magistrates Court was a bedlam of activity as a charged mob reportedly attempted to lynch the private lawyers representing victims of the recent police brutality who have instituted a private prosecution against the Police Chief General Kale Kayihura, and seven others. The suit alleges that several junior policemen, allegedly acting under the command of their seniors named in the suit, wantonly beat up and tortured supporters of former presidential candidate Dr.  Kizza Besigye. During the furor, it’s reported that a vehicle belonging to one the ‘besieged’ lawyers was vandalized by the mob.

This incident raises an often disregarded but critical rule of law issues, to wit, the role of the public in the administration of justice.  I argue that the citizens of Uganda are the central focus of the country’s justice system. Article 127 of the Constitution mandates Parliament to make law providing for participation of the people in the administration of justice by the courts.

Administration of justice, simply put refers to the process and structure which facilitates the resolution of disputes by a legally-established body. In the context of criminal matters, it entails the process of detecting and investigating; prosecuting; and punishing crimes—duties performed by the Police, the Directorate of Public Prosecutions and the Judiciary respectively.

So the question that emerges is; where are the “people” in the system? It’s crucial to note that administration of justice is beyond the court room; and encompasses the broad spectrum of citizen watch, reporting cases to the police, effecting arrests of suspects, compliance with the law, participation in justice process as well as in holding justice actors accountable, etc. This is where the public comes in. The people, individual and in community, have a duty to render to the courts such assistance as may be required to ensure effective dispensation of justice, and not inadvertently participate in process that cripple justice administration.

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Demonstrators at Makindye Court (Photo: Daily Monitor)

In a court setting, any person with relevant information to a particular case has a duty to give testimony that is relevant to the case. Through the system of assessors, in criminal trials, individuals are given the opportunity to assist the judicial officer with input on the merits of a case, before judgment is given. In other words, they directly participate in informing the outcomes of a criminal case.

Where an individual is not satisfied with how a particular matter is being handled in court, they have a right to file formal complaints with the relevant institution like the Judicial Service Commission, Inspectorate of Government, Directorate of Public Prosecutions, among others. Certainly, violence is not and shouldn’t be an option!

The hallmark principle in the administration of justice by courts world over is to ensure the fair and impartial protection of rights and punishment of wrongs. It therefore follows that the role of the public should fit within the ambit of this principle. Any acts, omissions or excesses that depart from that principle should be abhorred by all right thinking people.

It’s important to note that whereas judicial power is derived from the people as provided for in the Constitution, the exercise of that power is not subject to the control or direction of any person—not even the public. The sentiments of the Judiciary are well captured in the words of the Chief Justice Bart Katureebe and I quote “… we are very upset about the events at Makindye Chief Magistrates Court last week. No one has a right to disrupt court proceedings” I agree with him!

To this end, this incident, to the extent that was disrupting the dispensation of justice defeats the intention of the framers of our laws. It is regrettable and all measures should be taken to bring to justice the perpetrators of such violent and regressive actions.