There are essentially three courts that handle child-related matters. These are the local council courts (Local Council Judicial Powers Act, 1988) as courts of first instance, the children and family court/magistrate courts (Children Act, 1997) and the High Court (Judicature Act, 1996) which handles capital offences. Cases involving children are supposed to be handled expeditiously. However, the officer in charge of Nagulu detention centre informed me that some cases take long. Due to a shortage of judicial officers in Uganda, many cases involving children can take more than 3 years, contrary to the provisions of the Children Act. Indeed, she had children in her custody that have been there for more than 2 years on remand. It is even worse where the child is indicted jointly with an adult person.
The principles governing litigation involving children are enshrined in the Children Act. A right to a speedy trial is the cornerstone of the administration of justice to children. The Act provides:
99. Duration of Cases
1. Every case shall be handled expeditiously and without unnecessary delay.
2. Where the case of a child appearing before a family and children court is not completed within 3 months after the child’s plea has been taken, the case shall be dismissed, and the child shall not be liable to any further proceedings for the same offence.
3. Where, owing to its seriousness, a case is heard by a court superior to the family and children court, the maximum period of remand for a child shall be 6 months, after which the child shall be released on bail.
4. Where a case to which subsection (3) applies is not completed within 12 months after the plea has been taken, the case shall be dismissed and the child shall be discharged and shall not be liable to any further proceedings for the same offence.
Upon the child being found guilty, the family and children court can order any of the following where the charges are successfully proven against the child:
(a) Absolute discharge.
(c) Conditional discharge for not more than 12 months.
(d) Binding the child over to be of good behaviour for a maximum of 12 months.
(e) Compensation, restitution or fine, taking into consideration the means of the child so far as they are known to the court; but an order of detention shall not be made in default of payment of a fine.
(f) A probation order in accordance with the Probation Act for not more than 12 months, with such conditions as may be included as recommended by the probation and social welfare officer; but a probation order shall not require a child to reside in a remand home.
(g) Detention for a maximum of 3 months for a child under 16 years of age and a maximum of 12 months for a child above 16 years of age and in the case of an offence punishable by death, 3 years in respect of any child. Detention connotes placement in a centre designated for that purpose by the minister in such circumstances and with such conditions as may be recommended to the court by the probation and social welfare officer.