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Chief Justice Lifts Ban on Hearing Cases, Election Petitions

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The CJ suspended the hearing of cases more than 40 days due to a surge in COVID-19 infections and deaths resulting from the second wave of the pandemic.
His Lordship Alfonse Owiny-Dollo Chigamoy the Chief Justice of Uganda
The Chief Justice-CJ Alfonse Owiny-Dollo has directed the resumption of the hearing of both criminal and civil matters under strict observance of the Standard Operating Procedures-SOPs aimed at stopping the spread of COVID-19.    

Justice Owiny-Dollo, who had also suspended the hearing of Election Petitions, has ordered that hearings resume on August 16 2021, saying the Principal Judge will be issuing the schedules.

The CJ suspended the hearing of cases more than 40 days due to a surge in COVID-19 infections and deaths resulting from the second wave of the pandemic. His directive came two days after president; Yoweri Museveni announced the second nationwide lockdown for 42 to contain the second wave of infections.

On July 30, 2021, Museveni lifted the lockdown following the expiry of the 42 days, saying COVID-19 cases had significantly reduced. He also directed people categorized as essential workers such as health workers, media practitioners, and judiciary and security agencies to increase their strength from 10 to 20 percent with strict observance of SOPs.

Now, in line with the presidential guidelines, Justice Owiny-Dollo has ordered judges in cases where there are more than 10 Advocates in a single election petition to conduct the hearing using Audio- Visual facilities or use open spaces in the court premises where possible.

"All courts shall, where possible, establish a temporary separate space at the court where excess persons or those whose cases were fixed at a later time, may be seated, in order to promote social distancing and observation of Covid-19 SOPs, "reads the CJ’s circular in part.  

Adding that, “Only parties to the case (s), their Advocates and specifically summoned witnesses shall attend Court. Cases should be caused listed for specific times, one after the other and a witness waiting area should be arranged".    

According to Justice Owiny-Dollo,  “the media  interested in covering Election Petition proceedings shall be accredited and guided by the respective court registrars in consultation with the Public Relations Officer to ensure the coverage of Court proceedings is done in an orderly manner".

There are 104 parliamentary election petitions across the country and more than 50 others emanating from the LC V chairperson polls as well as other local council leaders, according to the court records seen by URN. Besides lifting the ban on hearing cases, the Chief Justice has also ordered that plea bargain sessions in both the High Court and Magistrates Courts should also resume immediately.

"Each Court will determine the number of cases to handle per day upon discussion with Key stakeholders like office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, Prisons , Police and Advocates among others.” The circular also states, “Execution proceedings and process may resume, except evictions arrests and detention of judgement debtors.”  

According to Owiny-Dollo when hearing Civil and Criminal cases, Judicial Officers should not fix more than five cases per day to avoid clouds. He further directed that the courts should immediately start operating at 20 percent staff physical presence and ensure that only critical staff appear to attend the court or office business on a daily basis.

"Registrars , Magistrates and Heads of Department are required to update the staff attendance rotas for each court and office to ensure that the staff work in rotation with a view to avoid crowding courts, registries and offices", reads the circular.

He noted that staff who are not shortlisted to work physically should remain working from home whenever applicable. The law requires hearing of election petitions within 60 days after their filing. However, in this case, the judiciary delayed the hearing due to the lockdown caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

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