Chief justices from the East African Community have resolved to speed up cases involving trade disputes in order to support the regional process.
The judicial bosses from Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, South Sudan and Zanzibar, met in Nairobi to draft a framework where judiciaries in the region will cooperate, share experiences and expertise, harmonise jurisprudence and jointly confront challenges to the administration of justice in the region.
“The process of regional integration, by its very nature, generates disputes between states, states and citizens and the judiciaries have stepped in to solve these peacefully and amicably,” said Uganda Chief Justice, Bert Katureebe.
The two day East African Community Chief Justice’s Forum was also attended by Dr Emmanuel Ugirashebuja, President of the East African Court of Justice (EACJ) and Chief Justice of the Federal Republic of Somalia, who came as an observer.
Whereas trade disputes take long to settle, the EAC summit of the Heads of State has recognised the problem and signed a protocol on extended jurisdiction. This allows the EACJ to receive and decide cases involving trade and investment matters emanating from the implementation of the Customs Union Protocol and the Common Market Protocol. The protocol is at various levels of ratifications in the partner states.
“As judiciaries in East Africa, we are making interventions in our court processes that would also improve our countries’ ranking in the Ease of Doing Business Index,” said Kenyan Chief Justice, David Maraga.
Among the bottlenecks to the administration of justice in the region are limited access to justice; limited resources for expanding courts which limits access to justice; lack of understanding on the workings of courts, which sometimes erodes public faith and confidence.
Others are heavy case backlog; poverty in the population and insufficient coordination of the justice sector actors which results in inefficiencies.
There is also need to increase budget allocations to the judiciary to establish more courts and improve access to justice beyond courts.
The meeting observed that one of the leading challenges is limited funding of the judiciary in all the six partner states while the EAC Treaty provides that each country to set aside 2.5 per cent of their national budgets for the judiciary to improve access to justice.
“While we recognise and appreciate that financial resources of our countries are limited, the current financial allocations are less than the needs of the Judiciaries to deliver quality and effective services to the citizenry,” the chief justices said.
They said they would continue engaging the others arms of government to improve financial allocations and security for the judiciary, and to support the establishment and running of a fund to ensure financial autonomy of the judiciary.
The chief justices appealed to partner states to include the East African Community Chief Justices Forum as an official actor in the EAC processes, particularly on the administration of justice, and make the make the forum’s engagements part of the calendar of EAC activities.
Others who attended included the Prof Sam Rugege, Chief Justice of Rwanda, Justice Chac Reec Madut (South Africa), and Justice Omar Othman Makungu (Zanzibar).