Toll of justice delayed in Uganda weighs in at $2bn

Saturday July 15 2023

A high court in Kampala, Uganda. PHOTO | NMG


The two-year Covid-19 lockdown period, underdeveloped mediation system and a harsh economic environment have pushed the value of unresolved commercial cases stuck in Ugandan courts to around Ush8 trillion ($2.2 billion) to date according to government records.

Court cases are classified as backlog items after spending more than two years in the judicial system without receiving a hearing date, allocation to a presiding judge or magistrate or delivery of judgments, according to judicial sources.

Several cases were reportedly filed during the lockdown period but were not concluded on account of stiff lockdown restrictions that affected several sectors, including the judiciary. While courts stayed open during the lockdowns, judicial operations were considerably scaled down, leaving few judges, magistrates, court clerks and state attorneys available to handle incoming cases in observance of physical distancing measures deemed necessary for slowing down coronavirus infections.

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Lacking capacity

“Mediation usually helps to resolve small cases related to non-payment of salaries, loss of jobs and loan default matters but are less effective in tackling large commercial disputes,” says Kabiito Karamagi, a partner at Ligomarc Advocates.


The overall case backlog registered by Ugandan courts was estimated at 50,000 unresolved cases by end of May while the judiciary plans to clear 6,000 backlog cases by close of June 2024, government data shows.

“The Commercial Court bench has been expanded to eight sitting judges, but it requires a total of 15 justices to clear the accumulated backlog.

Each judge is supposed to handle a minimum of 300 cases per year, but they usually exceed that quota.

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Frequent court adjournments are managed through case management protocols that lie within the judge’s powers,” noted Jameson Karemani, Uganda judiciary spokesperson.

“We have proposed an arbitration court for handling loan-related disputes,” one executive says.