Kampala/ upcountry. Yesterday, all State prosecutors countrywide boycotted work and the courts remained empty following the strike by State attorneys under the Directorate of Public Prosecutions over low pay.
“I just want to inform you as you may see the front desk is empty. The State prosecutors are on strike. They have their issues that they want addressed. I am going to adjourn all your cases possibly the next time you return to court, they will have changed their mind,” Grade One Magistrate George Watyekere at Law Development Centre Court (LDC), told court clients who had come to attend proceedings of their cases.
There was virtually no business in all courts mainly at magistrate level.
The word “adjourned” became the common phrase across all courts countrywide as judges and magistrates deferred criminal cases for lack of prosecution.
Litigants/clients who entered any criminal court yesterday were greeted with a common scene of the presiding judicial officer, court clerks and private lawyers but with no State prosecutor.
Prosecutors are attorneys who handle criminal cases on behalf of the State. Their absence or boycott means no criminal case could be heard, no suspect could be charged nor remanded and all cases fixed for yesterday and the subsequent days were adjourned or will be adjourned as long as the prosecutors stay on their strike.
The president of Uganda Association of Prosecutors, Mr David Baxter Bakibinga, last evening said the strike will be indefinite because the government failed to commit itself on addressing their grievances as earlier agreed.
Last week, in a bid to avert the strike, government announced a tax exemption of State prosecutors’ salaries from Pay As You Earn (PAYE).
However, by Tuesday evening, the Justice ministry had not signed the commitment circular as an assurance that the government would fulfil its commitments to the prosecutors as agreed in the previous meeting.
At Mpigi Chief Magistrate’s Court, the gate was closed with a security guard sending away the litigants for lack of business.
“You’re not allowed to enter here today. Probably come back tomorrow,” a security officer told one of our reporters.
The situation was not any different though the courtrooms were open to the public.
The State prosecutor’s office was locked, a confirmation of no business at court. “I came to hear my assault case today but now I don’t know what to do. No one is here to help me,” said Mr George Ssenabulya, a court litigant.
Buganda Road court
Buganda Road Court, one of the country’s busiest courts in the heart of the capital Kampala, was literary empty.
Chief Magistrate Jamson Karemani convened court early morning and briefly told the litigants the prosecutors were on strike and he could not proceed to hear their cases.
“You are looking for news, sorry, today you have none….” the magistrate joked with the Daily Monitor reporter.
He adjourned all the cases before him for two weeks, ostensibly in anticipation the strike will have ended.
There were 49 criminal cases listed for consideration at the court yesterday but were all adjourned.
The break-down of the cases before Buganda Road Court yesterday stood thus: Magistrate Mr Karemani (4 cases); Mr James Ereemye (6 cases); Ms Joan Aciro (8 cases); Ms Gladys Kamasanyu (8 cases); Ms Mariam Mangeni (5 cases); Ms Esther Nahirya (14 cases) and Suzan Anyeko (4 cases).
City Hall court
At City Hall Court, no hearing or mention of a criminal case was made. All the cases were adjourned for the same reasons.
Law Development Centre court
At LDC Court, magistrate Juliet Hatanga instead used the absence of prosecutors to counsel and educate the litigants about the law.
She took time briefing them on how to draft the ‘last will of testament’ and invited them to ask her law-related questions which she answered.
The third batch of the suspects in the Kasese attacks were due to appear in court to be committed to the International Crimes Division of the High Court for trial. However, there was no prosecutor to present the committal papers in court.
The stranded magistrate adjourned the case and other cases.
The case was adjourned to July 26 and the suspects, mainly royal guards of King Charles Mumbere, were further remanded to prison.
A total of 50 criminal cases were adjourned. Records at the Masaka High Court Registry indicated that among the cases affected by the prosecutors’ strike include one involving Lwengo District Woman MP Cissy Namujju, who is expected to submit her defence against charges of forgery and presenting false documents.
Other cases include terrorism against suspected members of a gang accused of murdering people in Masaka sub-region using machetes and knives.
Ms Vianne Ndugga, a resident of Masaka Town, who was found at court, said she supported the striking prosecutors given the low pay they earn yet they do complicated legal work.
Ms Ndugga wondered why prosecutors who handle sensitive cases such as corruption, terrorism and drug trafficking involving huge sums of money can be paid as little as Shs600,000 for salary.
“They should be paid some reasonable money like their counterparts in authorities such as Kampala Capital City Authority and Uganda Revenue Authority. They risk their lives to try people who are dangerous,” she added.
Ms Christine Ntambi, another resident of Masaka Town, also supported the prosecutors’ action.
“Unreasonable pay puts State prosecutors at risk of being compromised by accused people. Government should raise their payment and they return to work,” she said.
Justice Joseph Murangira, who has been presiding over a criminal session there, was yesterday expected to deliver some judgments in certain cases, but was impelled to call them off due to the absence of prosecutors.
He said he would communicate to the court litigants when their cases will resume. A disappointed Edward Kiyega, who had travelled from Kasanje Town Council to secure bail for his colleague, told Daily Monitor: “I had come to stand surety for a prisoner who is in jail but when we reached here in the morning, there was no State prosecutor. Only the magistrates and clerks were around. They were just adjourning cases.”
Justice Vincent Okwanga resorted to hearing only civil cases which do not require criminal prosecutors. Among cases Justice Okwanga was set to preside over, was one where Gulu University lecturer Andrew Rachkara was murdered at the gate of his residence in Pece Division in 2015. People who came to court were told by police at the gate that there was no business.
All the five State prosecutors attached to this court stayed away yesterday. Ms Jovuresi Birungi, 55, who travelled from Nyakayojo village in Rwanyamahembe, Kashari, to follow up her arson case, was told to go home and return on August 2.
“I was told by the Chief Magistrate to come back today, so I travelled yesterday (Tuesday) and slept in town. But today they told me to go and come back next month. They said the officials are striking,” Ms Birungi told Daily Monitor at the court.
Ms Fiona Aruho, from Central Cell in Kakoba Division was also waiting at court, expecting her husband, Mr Alex Namanya, who was remanded two weeks ago, to be brought back, but she left frustrated.
Luweero Chief Magistrate Charles Sserubuga adjourned more than 10 cases.
“We had witnesses and the litigants in court but we could not proceed without the prosecutors. We do not know when the strike will end,” Mr Sserubuga told Daily Monitor.
At the lower Grade One Magistrate’s Court, seven cases were adjourned with many litigants stranded on the next step after wasting money on transport.
Mr Samuel Ssemakade from Ngoma in Nakaseke District said he had used Shs35,000 on transport to court but was disappointed to leave without hearing about his case.
Fort Portal court
About 20 cases were dismissed for lack of prosecution.The court clerk, Mr Richard Arinaitwe, said about 15 to 20 cases were dismissed before Grade One Magistrate Vianny Kwizera. Mr Kwizera also adjourned 30 cases and told the affected parties they would be notified about the new dates for their cases.
Compiled by Anthony Wesaka, Betty Ndagire, Alfred Tumushabe, Daniel Wandera, Malik Fahad, Paul Adude, James Owich, Felix Basiime & Tausi Nakato
Pay. According to the current salary structure of prosecutors under DPP, the lowest ranking prosecutor (State prosecutor) earns a monthly gross pay of Shs644,963 with the highest ranking prosecutor at the rank of senior principal State attorney, pocketing a gross monthly pay of Shs2.1m.