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Closing ceremony of the East Africa Court of Justice Judicial Conference

Statement by the Director-General, Ms Jan Beagle

28 October 2022
Mr. President,
Honourable Chief Justices,
Esteemed guests,

It is an honour to speak at the closing of this East Africa Court of Justice Judicial Conference on behalf of the International Development Law Organization – the only global intergovernmental organization exclusively devoted to promoting the rule of law to advance peace and sustainable development.

At IDLO we work to enable governments and empower people to reform laws, strengthen institutions and increase access to justice through our programming, research and advocacy.

IDLO has been a proud partner of East African judiciaries since 2009, with programmes to support the justice sector in Kenya, Rwanda, South Sudan, Tanzania, Burundi and Uganda.

We have ongoing work in Kenya, Rwanda, Somalia and Uganda and I would like to express my thanks to the judiciaries of these four partner countries for their leadership and support.

I am also appreciative of the great collaboration we enjoy with the East African Community secretariat, and with the judicial education institutions of the region, to promote the rule of law.

It is wonderful to see how the annual meetings of the Forum of East African Chief Justices and the East African Judicial Education Committee have grown into a vibrant forum for knowledge sharing and dialogue on emerging legal, jurisprudential and development issues.

This year’s gathering also convenes Chief Justices from IGAD member states that are not part of the East African Community.

And some of you have also participated- as I have- in the two other conferences during this East African Justice Week- The Regional Conference on Land and Conflict and the International Association of Women Judges.

It is through partnerships and exchanges like these that we will be able to advance our common objective of ensuring access to justice for all by making judicial systems more inclusive, accessible, effective and efficient.

As Justices, you know better than anyone the power of the law to transform communities and societies.

One of the key themes during the symposium, and indeed all the events during this East Africa Justice Week, was the importance of bringing justice closer to the people.

IDLO is proud to have partnered with many of you in efforts to ensure that the law is more inclusive and accessible for all people.

An important way to do this is to provide additional channels for people to access justice.

In Uganda, for instance, we have been helping to support the speedy resolution of disputes through alternative dispute resolution (ADR) mechanisms.

These mechanisms are grounded in mediation, and attempt to resolve disputes through restorative, rather than adversarial, solutions.

We are also helping to provide legal aid to vulnerable persons. IDLO has ensured access to essential justice and information services for over 16,000 people.

Out of these, 4,200 were able to successfully conclude their disputes through mediation.

The cases were concluded within three to six weeks of reporting. By comparison, the resolution of a similar civil case takes at least 810 days through regular court process.

In Kenya, IDLO has supported the rollout of Court Annexed Mediation (CAM) in 36 courts.

This mediation is offered at no cost and, as of June 2022, over 6,000 cases were referred to mediators with more than 2,000 solved to the satisfaction of both parties.

Another important priority is protecting the rights of those who have traditionally been excluded from justice processes.

And as we were reminded during the Conference of the International Association of Women Judges, a specific focus on women’s access to justice is essential.

In Somalia, IDLO has been promoting women’s access to justice through Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) Centres, in partnership with the Ministries of Justice.

The Centres, which apply the customary Xeer system, provide free dispute resolution services, while referring more complex or criminal cases to formal courts.

Particular attention is devoted to cases of gender-based violence (GBV), female paralegals accompany GBV survivors to the police and courts, and ensure they obtain the medical and legal assistance they require.

To date, the ADR Centres supported by IDLO have solved about 5,000 disputes, and reached more than 10,000 justice seekers. And about 50% of the cases were raised by women.

In Kenya, IDLO is supporting the judiciary to develop policies and mechanisms aimed at building a gender-sensitive culture within the Judiciary, and ensuring the justice system’s increased responsiveness to the needs not only of women but also of children.

In Rwanda, IDLO is currently enhancing the capacity of the customary Abunzi and statutory mechanisms, to strengthen the resolution of land-related disputes, while promoting greater respect for the rights of women and girls.

An issue that I know is on all of your minds is achieving greater efficiency and effectiveness in judicial administration.

This is another area where we are pleased to partner with you.

For example, with the technical support of IDLO, the Judiciary of Uganda has revised its court rules and guidelines to improve efficiency in service delivery, and address persistent case backlogs.

The rules also provide more transparency and predictability of bail and bond processes for accused persons.

These legislative reforms were carried out in conjunction with key policy changes, such as:

the gradual phasing out of the session system and the roll-out of daily hearings of criminal cases and implementation of case backlog strategies;

and a regular interface between high court circuits, divisions and the monitoring committees.

I am happy to report that, as a result of these reforms, the time required to solve a criminal case went from an average of over 2000 to 365 days or less.

And this is just one of the impacts of the work undertaken in partnership with the Judiciary of Uganda.

In Kenya, IDLO is supporting efforts to reduce the case backlog in the Commercial and Tax Division of the High Court.

The Judiciary’s Performance Management Report ranked the Commercial and Tax Division (CTD) as the best-performing division of the High Court, with a case clearance rate of 128% and a reduction of case backlog at 11%.

As I don’t need to tell you, this represents a significant achievement.

When commercial disputes are resolved in a timely manner, finances that were previously tied up in court can be released back into the economy, and investor confidence increases.

IDLO has also supported the establishment of Small Claims Courts (SCCs), in eight of the 12 gazetted court stations in 2022, with a median conclusion rate for claims of 37 days.

The Small Claims Courts facilitate timely, less costly and accessible resolution of low-value civil and commercial disputes, while helping to reduce case backlog, thereby freeing higher courts to focus on more complex and higher-value commercial disputes.

These are just some examples of the great work being done in the region.

In conclusion, allow me to congratulate you on the remarkable progress made by the Judiciaries in the East Africa Region in fulfilling the legitimate expectation of every citizen to be treated justly.

But, as I know you agree, we must continue to address the remaining barriers preventing access to justice.

Judiciaries play a pivotal role in overcoming exclusion and ensuring that everyone – especially women and girls, and vulnerable and marginalized groups – are able to understand and access judicial systems to claim their rights and protect their interests. Your work also contributes to building trust and strengthening the social contract.

There is tremendous scope for us to learn from experiences and expertise around the region, and across the world, and to use this knowledge as a catalyst to promote the vision of a world where everyone lives with dignity, and equality, under the rule of law.

Thank you for sharing your important insights on the challenges justice systems continue to face and promising solutions – from digital transformation to alternative dispute resolution.

It is now time to turn this inspiration into action at local, national and regional levels.

My colleagues and I at IDLO are committed to supporting you as you move forward with this critical work.