The acting Chief Justice Alfonse Owiny Dollo has issued a new set of guidelines for the courts as they resume hearing of criminal cases. Court hearings and appearances had been suspended after the outbreak of coronavirus disease in the country four months ago.
According to a circular issued by the then Chief Justice Bart Katureebe, courts were asked to advise parties to file written submissions for cases at the state of submissions while execution proceedings were indefinitely suspended. During the time, the courts adopted the use of video link and other virtual communication platforms to deal with cases involving prisoners and those on remand.
The Judiciary spokesperson Jameson Karemani, says that as the courts reopen, all court sessions and activities will ensure that there is no physical contact of any kind between the general public and inmates and no crowding at either prison facilities or at court premises.
Karemani added that all courts will be required to hold pre-session meetings involving all stakeholders such as the Director of Public Prosecutions, the Uganda Prisons Service, the Police, Judicial officers, probation officers and advocates among others. This is to enable actors to agree on how long hearing of the case will take based on the number of witnesses and evidence available.
According to the new guidelines, hearing of cases that involve many prisoners will be conducted at the prison facilities and not in the courts.
Karemani also emphasized that all court sessions shall be closed to the public with the exception of witnesses, complainants, and other essential actors. He added that under the new guidelines, prisoners will not be allowed to interface with anyone including their relatives with the exception of legal representatives.
Meanwhile, the judiciary has started training judges who will be handling Gender-Based Violence related cases across the country. Karemani said that the judicial officers under training will serve as facilitators to special hearings on GBV cases.