Life in the Family Court

Katy M.

Kampala, Uganda

The Family Division of the High Court does not look like what an American would think of as a court. It’s on the fourth floor of an old, fading building with a questionable elevator that everyone avoids. We didn’t have a space to work until the second week because they just didn’t have space or desks for us. But it’s the people in the Family Court who make it so special. They made the two of us interning there feel welcomed, and our judges made us feel like the judgments we wrote were important and I think they actually used parts of them in their own opinions. When we finally did get a desk, they gave us a whole room they cleared out for us with a new desk and these fancy chairs normally used by the Justices. We have a row of windows across the back of our room that looks across to an Austrian Embassy office, and they wave to us in the mornings. The security guard who sits at the entrance to the floor never fails to give us a smile and head nod in the morning and a “nice night” when we leave. One of our judges even invited us to sit in on a commission she’s presiding over regarding mismanagement and corruption inquiries into the Ugandan National Roadway Authority. It was cool to get to see her running the show and being allowed in, but I will admit that after an hour of hearing about roads, I was ready to go.

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Welcome to the Family Court!

Being in the Family Court gave me a truer sense of the Ugandan culture faster than people working in the other courts, because the Family Court works with actual people, and most are from areas outside of Kampala. Watching mediations in the court teaches me more than I think I could have learned from reading every guidebook written about Uganda. There are always grandmother’s dressed in traditional dresses sitting in the waiting room, children crying, and families fighting over who gets more land. It turns out that the majority of cases in the Family Court revolve around land, I was not expecting that. You always know when there’s an adoption (which is termed “legal guardianship” in Uganda when the parents are foreign) case being heard, because there will be “mzungus” (foreigners) in the waiting room. Days with adoption cases are always good days, because at the end of the case, a family walks out of the front door.

 

What a file looks like when it comes across our desk

What a file looks like when it comes across our desk

Needed extra chairs during a mediation one day. Fairly confident this came from the children's play room.

Needed extra chairs during a mediation one day. Fairly confident this came from the children’s play room.