Access to Justice is a hallmark of democracy and therefore societies should fundamentally promote it. Goal 16 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) emphasizes that states should commit to promote just, peaceful and inclusive societies.
However the glaring corruption incidences in Uganda continue to undermine access to justice. The surge in the corruption levels especially in the judiciary adversely affects access to justice.
According to a study carried out in Gulu and Lira districts by the Institute for Human Security at Tufts University, in the US, with assistance from Ugandan researchers, respondents revealed that ordinary people engage in corruption (in form of giving and taking bribes ) as a means of accessing the courts to pursue justice or to manipulate it for private gain.
Since corruption has in itself become a norm in the judicial system, the poor, vulnerable and marginalized are often locked outside the systems and because they cannot afford paying bribes to court officers to facilitate their pending cases in court.
Several studies have shown that court officers solicit bribes from litigants in order to have their cases cause listed and to influence the outcome of case judgments. This therefore implies that because of such systematic corruption in the justice sector, access to justice is for sale where the highest bidder takes it all.
Although Uganda has a strong legal regime in fighting corruption, implementation of the anti-corruption laws is deliberately insufficient. The 1995 constitution of the Republic of Uganda recognizes under Article 126(2) (a), the need for the Judiciary to administer justice to all, irrespective of social or economic status. The framers of this article intended to safeguard, among others, undue social and economic technicalities that could hinder dispensation of justice.
However, reports of corruption in the Judiciary are getting louder and its manifestations changing according to prevailing circumstances. Evidenced by the Inspectorate of Government report 2015, the Judiciary was ranked the second most corrupt institution after Police.
More still, the East African Bribery Index 2014, revealed that corruption in the Judiciary soared from 27.9% in 2013 to 39.8% that year. Additionally, the AfroBarometer report (2016), re-affirmed that perceptions of corruption in the judiciary increased.
The media should be applauded for its supportive role of investigating corruption in public institutions like the judiciary. However we still need to train investigative journalists on how to track and expose more corruption scandals in the judicial system that act as a deterrent to accessing justice.
We should also commend the efforts undertaken by other key actors in the judicial corruption fight. The Judicial Service Commission (JSC) although still under-funded has been critical in ensuring sanity in the judicial system. Imperative to note is that collaborations between JSC and the like-minded Civil Society Organizations still need to be strengthened in order to harness synergies.
By and large, we need to further engage the public in the fight against judicial corruption. More awareness civic awareness campaigns need to be supported in order to enlighten people on how and where to report judicial corruption.
Having achieved the zero tolerance to judicial corruption, access to justice for the poor and marginalized will be attained.
The author Badru Walusansa is a Commonwealth correspondent