What is the impact of Covid19 on the jurisdiction?

Luca Taugner July 15, 2020

The coronavirus disease is causing serious disruptions in various facets of the Ugandan society - Amongst others the legal system. What is the impact of Covid -19 on the jurisdiction? Which role can the use of ICT play in the courts of law?


Introduction & Opening Remarks

The Webinar brought together panelists from different disciplines including the judiciary, human rights lawyers with backgrounds in civil society and private practice of the law.

The opening remarks of the event were given by Nicole Bjerler, the Deputy Head of the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Uganda. She stressed that the current restrictions are having an extensive impact on the right to justice for the vulnerable, as well as the right of due process by limiting physical access to courts.

But beyond the difficulties of the current situation, ICT in the justice system could help to overcome these inequalities and foster the safeguarding of human rights in Uganda, e.g. by extending the use of technology for remote communication.

Therefore, she stated that in accordance with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development the United Nations Human Rights Office is committed to support digital human rights activists, in their work to ensure access to justice through the use of ICT tools and their claims for fair trial for all citizens.

Present Condition of ICT use in the Judiciary in Uganda

The first session of the panel discussion was opened by Phoebe Murungi from BarefootLaw Uganda. She gave an extensive overview on the current state of ICT use in Ugandan Courts of how effectively this is implemented. Nicholas Opiyo followed by reminding about the hardships that are still present in the field. For example the failure to recognize lawyers as essential service providers which denied hundreds of people access to legal representation. Even though courts have taken steps in the right direction due to the pandemic, these efforts have to be incorporated into a wider ICT policy.

Beyond that efforts have to be taken to integrate more people in ICT structures in Uganda, as certain population groups are still lacking access. Primah Kwagala from Women’s Probono Initiative noted that only 6% of women have access to the internet worldwide. She recalled that women in particular are excluded from digitisation processes and are thus deprived of the possibility to assert their rights.

In the subsequent feedback session the viewing public asked questions on different discussion areas such as reminding that there is also an attitude problem especially among the older generation and in the lower courts that stands in the way of a successful ICT rollout in the judiciary.

Potentials and Shortcomings of the Digitization of Ugandan Courts of Law

The second session of the panel discussion began with Onyango Owor rethinking the enormous potential ICT could have for the juridical system in Uganda. The overall public response to changes in the sector is positive with just a few people rejecting those shifts. Contrary he rather identifies the problem among the various stakeholders of the legal system when he states that about 70% of lawyers in Uganda are not ready for the implementation or use of ICT in courts.

Nicholas Opiyo called to mind a differentiation between the millennials who are the young ICT-savvy lawyers; and the traditional lawyers fixated on the conservative nature of the law and established procedures.

Nevertheless there are two prerequisites that must be taken into account when further implementing technologies in the justice sector. First, a closely integrated security concept that places particular emphasis on privacy. Second, the rules by which ICT is implemented in the judiciary needs to be firmer, leaving no room for doubt.

Recommendations & Outlook

In the course of the event, concrete proposals were developed to enhance this process. For example, ICT training for all actors and groups was proposed. Furthermore, the need for a post COVID-19 continuity as to continue to monitor the progress already made and to deepen partnerships to effectively implement the process is demanded. Finally, established designated IT Centres are proposed to enable a better access to ICT for women and other vulnerable groups.

The Webinar was concluded by closing remarks of the audience which reiterated the importance of human rights defenders addressing this dynamic and essential issue. The further implementation of ICT in the justice system in Uganda must be accompanied critically and productively in order to distribute the enormous potential fairly in society and reduce inequalities.