The Judiciary has announced that only four people are allowed to attend court proceedings in small Court halls and 10 people in bigger Court halls as part of the measures to contain the spread of coronavirus.
The directive which also provides that each Judicial Officer should handle not more than five cases listed per day, is contained in the revised contingency measures to prevent and mitigate the saread of COVID-19 in the Judiciary Circular issued on May 27 by the Chief Justice, Bart M. Katureebe.
According to the Circular, normal operations in the Courts in Uganda shall have to wait until the general opening of public transport.
Currently, only private means of transport with not more than 3 occupants are allowed to operate. President Yoweri Museveni recently said public transport (buses, mini buses, taxis) would resume after proper preparation on June 4 but each will carry half of their loading capacity.
“We said when public transport resumes but border districts will not be allowed for now (21 days) because people can easily come from neighbouring countries, infiltrate our security systems and come to Kampala. Those are 40 border districts.”
Katureebe says partial court operations have been reinstated while observing the Presidential Directives and Ministry of Health (MOH) Guidelines and Standard Operations Procedures (SOPs).
“Courts shall continue to hear only applications and urgent matters until there is a general opening up of public transport. Upon the easing of the general public transport, courts shall resume normal hearings in civil matters,” said Katureebe.
“Criminal cases shall be restricted to: plea taking for Magistrates Courts, bail applications and plea bargains across the board, and appeals for the appellate courts. These restrictions shall remain in force until prisoners are able to be produced in Courts,” he added.
The head of the Judiciary stated that the use of audio-visual facilities shall continue alongside other modes of conducting hearings – determined by the head/in-charge of a specific Court or Station.
He also urged all Judicial Officers to continue writing and delivering judgments and rulings during this time.
He also directed that all Court staff (Judicial and non-judicial) and court users must wear face masks while at Court premises and that they should observe the SOPs as established by the Health Ministry while accessing Court premises, including undergoing temperature measurements and sanitization.
On social distancing in Courts, he said it should be observed at Court Registries directing that one person should be served at a time and the rest wait outside the Registry at a social distance of four meters apart.
The Chief Justice noted that the In-charge of Court or Station has the duty to determine the number of staff to report on duty on rotation basis, in line with SOPs issued by the Ministry of Health.
At the beginning of this month, the Uganda Law Society (ULS) has submitted names of all its members to the Chief Registrar for consideration to practice during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic crisis.
This was in line with President Museveni’s directive that allowed only 30 lawyers to join a few selected service providers who were working during the lockdown. After President’s communication, the interpretation was that only 30 lawyers in the country selected by Uganda Law Society were to practice in this crisis.
But according to the Law Society President, Peter Kinobe, the President had been misinterpreted.
“He (President Museveni) did not open legal practice to only 30 lawyers. What he meant is that 30 stickers would be availed to lawyers who will use them rationally,” Kinobe said.