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Mukono Court in Uganda shows Justice for the Poor Depends on the Details

By Ed Wilson, Executive Director IJM Canada

Mukono Chief Magistrate's Court staff retrieving file from newly organized archives.

Ed Wilson is the Executive Director for IJM Canada. He recently returned from a one-week trip to visit our teams in the field including Uganda, where we defend widows and orphans from property grabbing.

Close by the massive, three-story (and unfinished) structure of the Mukono District administrative centre stands the Mukono Magistrate’s Court. The court buildings are clean, freshly painted and surrounded by well-tended gardens. The entire court complex is pervaded with a sense of dignity and order, which (we learned when our team met her) is a reflection of the values of Chief Magistrate Agnes Nkonge. With pride she told us that her court has been identified as a model for the entire country, and how thankful she is to IJM for their help in achieving this recognition. This is the same magistrate who, in April, handed down a six-year prison sentence against the man who assaulted and threatened Juliana (the longest sentence in any property grabbing case that IJM has ever worked on in Uganda), saying that the "act of grabbing property is condemned by this court.”

Two of the significant ways in which IJM has helped improve the effectiveness and efficiency of Chief Magistrate Nkonge’s court have been by organizing the filing system for court records and installing an electronic case management system.

Mukono Chief Magistrate's Court staff assisting client using newly installed case management system.

Before a team of volunteers from the U.S. organized the files in 2013, the Mukono court registry was not unlike what a Ugandan newspaper described: "A walk in any court registry will leave many court users thinking twice about the quality of services they will get from the corridors of justice. Piles of files are heaped on the floor, most caked in dust while the others show signs of tear and wear.”

The registrar of the Mukono court told us that before the files were organized, he dreaded going into the registry as it could take him days to find a file. Now he can locate what he’s looking for in two or three minutes.

Before the electronic case management system was installed, the only record of proceedings in the courtroom was the handwritten notes created by the magistrate, who perhaps should have been paying close attention to the testimonies and other details in the courtroom rather than note-taking. Now, court employees transcribe the digital recordings so that complete, accurate and objective records of every criminal trial are maintained (and not just IJM cases).

This is how IJM pursues its mission of protecting the poor from violence. The work that fuels the mission is not always high-adrenaline rescue operations with local police or victorious moments celebrating justice done in a court room. In fact, quite often it looks more like organizing more than 100,000 dust-covered court records. On most days, it looks like making countless trips to a courthouse and persevering through seemingly unending delays, adjournments and suspensions to finally achieve a conviction.

There’s an old expression "God is in the details." IJM has proven that justice for the poor depends on paying attention to details. And because we value details, the district court in Mukono is better equipped to bring justice to all people, including the widows and orphans we serve. This is God’s work, and this is how it gets done.

Partner with the IJM team to protect victims of violence and property grabbing. To find out how, read Benedeta's story.

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