Over 2.7 trillion shillings remains locked up in unresolved disputes filed in the Commercial Court Division of the High Court, Chief Justice Bart Katureebe has revealed.
The Chief Justice made the disclosure while commissioning the new Sembabule Magisterial Area Justice Centre structures located in Sembabule Town Council, Sembabule District. He blamed the situation on the persistent human resource challenges facing the Judiciary.
“The money is locked up in unresolved disputes that are in the Commercial Court alone. Such big sums of idle money would have been returned to circulation in order to boost the economy; but now it is stuck there and cannot be put to proper use,” the Chief Justice said.
He noted that the underlying cause of the problem is the fact that the Division does not have the required number of judges. Instead, the Commercial Court is presently operating at just half of its approved staffing level.
“Currently only four judges have been deployed at the Commercial Court out of the recommended number of eight. This makes it humanly impossible to dispose of all the matters filed for litigation, hence the delays,” Katureebe said.
He further remarked on the urgent need to increase the number judges and magistrates across the board in order to enable timely adjudication of the pending.
Procedurally, all disputes with monetary value of more than 50 million shillings are adjudicated before the High Court.
Such disputes, according to Justice Vincent Mugabo, include those related to insurance and banking, registration of land, transport and other monetary transactions with a threshold of 50 million shillings.
Mugabo indicates that whereas the Commercial Court currently has a backlog of over 1,500 cases, it daily registers new cases despite the few judges available.
Prof. Ephraim Kamuntu, the Minister of Justice and Constitution Affairs, acknowledged the staffing challenges of the judiciary and their implications, but promised that the government is working out a comprehensive plan to address them.
“We are engaged in high level discussions with various stakeholders such that we can find a sustainable solution,” he responded.
With some cooperatives being affected by overdue cases in the justice system, some experts have called for establishment of a specialized tribunal to handle disputes relating to cooperatives.