Getting to Know Uganda’s Justice System

By Tiffanie Bittle

Life in Uganda runs on a different speed. We call it Uganda Time. A quick dinner at a restaurant will last well over 3 hours. When our driver says “I will be there in 10 minutes,” you can expect to wait 30 minutes to an hour. When you get a text at 12:30 that says “We are having a spontaneous meeting at 1pm,” and you rush across town to get there on time, you can expect the meeting to start at about 4pm. It’s Uganda time!

After living in America, the slow-speaking, slow-moving, slow-service, always-running-late culture can be more than a little grating. However, I get the feeling that by the time I leave this beautiful country, I will have a great appreciation for the slow speed and enjoyment of time that the Ugandan people seem to have mastered.

I have completed my first week at the Supreme Court of Uganda. I am assigned there with another law student, Ed, and together we have been exploring the oddities and complexities of the Ugandan court system. On Tuesday, the court started a 2-week session of civil hearings. We had the opportunity to sit in on that first session before meeting each of the supreme court justices, including the Chief Justice of the Ugandan judiciary, who also serves as the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.

We have had fun learning as much as we can about the procedural aspects of the Ugandan court system and comparing them to the system in America. For instance, in America, many thousands of people apply to have their case heard in the Supreme Court, but only a few cases are granted certiorari and are heard by the court. In Uganda, however, anyone who applies to the Supreme Court with a question of law will be heard. In fact, several of the justices we spoke to on Tuesday described the American system of hearing only the “deserving” cases while ignoring all the rest as biased and unfair. We were also surprised by the short length of the court hearing. Knowing the slow-moving nature of this culture, we had expected to be in that courtroom for several hours, but the whole thing lasted only 20 minutes.

We also received our “attachments” to the various justices this week. Though the standard number of Supreme Court justices is 11, there are currently only 8 as several have recently retired and have not yet been replaced. Therefore, we have each been assigned to 4 justices who will contact us with research projects and assignment as they make their decisions for each case. In the meantime, we are trying to get used to referring justices as “my lord” and registrars as “your worship”. Definitely not there yet, but I am told it comes in time.

I have already learned so much about the Ugandan justice system but I still have so far to go.  I am just so glad to be here and have these unique opportunities. It is going to be a good summer and I look forward the weeks ahead!

 

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