The Chief Justice Alfonse Owiny-Dollo has issued new directives to court users involved in election petitions because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a January 29th, 2021 circular, Justice Owiny-Dollo says that due to COVID-19; where possible courts shall designate a separate temporary space in the registry to specifically receive election petitions.
This he says is meant to promote social distancing and observance of the Standard Operating Procedures- SOPs to contain the spread of COVID-19.“Each Judicial Officer shall not handle more than two election-related cases caused listed in a day at a specific time, one after another.
The number of people in the court shall be limited to only parties to the case, their advocates and specific witnesses as and when required”, reads the circular in part. Adding that, “witnesses will make written statements/witness statements/affidavits and only come to court in a phased manner for confirmation of their evidence, cross-examination and re-examination”.
He says “…where parties exceed ten in a single election petition, the trial Judge or Judicial Officer shall conduct a trial using Audiovisual facilities or use one of the spaces at the court premises if possible.” In the four-page circular, the chief justice also lays down procedures that will be followed by the media for proper coverage of the election petitions.
He says that in the event a Presidential Election Petition is filed, the media interested in covering the proceedings shall be accredited by the Chief Registrar, Sarah Langa Siu. “Upon accreditation, the journalists shall report to the Judiciary Principal Communications Officer for guidance on how to cover the proceedings in a manner, which is not prejudicial to the trial processes”, reads the circular in part.
Adding that, “All journalists involved in covering the proceedings of other election petitions shall liaise with the registrars and chief Magistrates in charge of stations of the respective courts for guidance in that exercise”.
The Chief Justice has also directed judicial officers handling civil, criminal and execution matters to continue observing SOPs as earlier directed in various circulars in 2020. The directive comes at the time when Uganda has lost 340 people to the COVID-19 pandemic and registered 3,956 positive cases, according to the Health Ministry statistics released on January 28th, 2021.