Ugandan judges plan strike against underfunding of judiciary

A parliamentary decision from a decade ago to increase the number of High Court judges from 51 to 82 remains on paper. The judges also claim they are overburdened and are not paid accordingly

March 26, 2019 by Peoples Dispatch
Judges in Uganda went on a strike in 2017 as well. Photo All East Africa

On March 22, High Court judges in Uganda reportedly decided to go on strike against underfunding of the judiciary. There is reportedly a significant shortage of judges in the country. .

In order to address the shortage, parliament had passed a resolution in 2009 to increase the number of High Court judges from 51 to 82. Ten years later, the decision has not been implemented.

“When the High Court circuits were created, the plan was to have four judges at each station and at least five judges at each of the eight divisions established in Kampala,” the Daily Monitor reported.

However, of the 20 upcountry judicial stations, only 14 are operational. And even of these, 12 have only one judge, while the other two, in Jinja and Mbarara, have two judges.

This has overburdened the existing judges, who also claim to be underpaid, with a monthly salary of UGX 9m (USD 2,429) and a housing allowance of UGX 4m (USD 1,079.6). The judges are demanding that their salaries be raised to UGX 16m (USD 4,318.4).

Also, judges complained that the operational fund of UGX 40m (USD 10,796) allocated per criminal session, which includes hearing of about 40 cases, is grossly insufficient.

Principal judge Yorokamu  Bamwine confirmed that the judges have resolved to go on strike, but clarified that it is not an official decision made by the judiciary.

“That was their resolution based on their understanding that some circuits remain non-operational due to lack of judges and operational funds. Some lack a second judge, a condition precedent for their creation,” he said, adding that their demands “will be considered by the recently announced Planning and Development Committee before it is submitted to the Chief Justice.”

This is not the first time that judiciary in Uganda would be brought to a halt due to industrial action. In August 2017, judges, magistrates and other officers employed in the judiciary went on a strike, demanding better pay.

They had demanded that the salary of the highest ranking judicial officer, the Chief Justice, be raised to UGX 55m (USD 14,844.6), and that of the lowest ranking officer, Grade Two Magistrate, be raised to UGX 11m (USD 2,968.9).

When the government promised to address their demands, the judiciary returned to work. However, the promise was not kept.