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Empirical study to examine challenges faced by Juvenile Justice Courts enhancing access to Justice for Juvenile offenders

 

Children constitute over half of the total population in Uganda which means that their rights and interests should be correspondingly promoted if the country is to develop at an appropriate level of growth. The reality in Uganda today is that there are many children on the streets foraging for living, which has led many of them into conflict with the law. The children’s search for means of survival more often than not leaves them at the mercy of the juvenile justice system

The juvenile justice system in Uganda consists of both formal and informal institutions. These include; the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (ODPP), the Criminal Investigations Directorate (CID), the Child and Family Protection Unit (CFPU) of the Uganda Police Force, the Local Councils and Local Council Courts which are under the Ministry of Local Government, the Department of Probation as well as the Department of Youth and Children plus Approved Homes and Rehabilitation Centers for Children which are administered by the Ministry of Gender, Labor and Social Development. These institutions operate within the parameters stipulated by the international and national legal framework on juvenile justice.

The international legal regime provides for specific standards to be met when handling children who come into conflict with the law and these have to a large extent been embedded in the national laws. These standards entrench children’s rights in all matters concerning children and furthermore stipulate the use of the principles of the best interests of the child in order to make the best decision alive to the children’s needs. The Children’s Act Cap. 59 provides for the establishment of the Family and Children’s Court (FCC) that has jurisdiction over criminal matters involving a child and applications for care and protection. The FCC was intended to be in every district and any other lower government unit designated by the Chief Justice by notice in the gazette.

This therefore means that the Family and Children’s Court is assumed to serve as the juvenile court although the FCC mandate is much wider. This court is presided over by a Magistrate not below the Grade II and by practice direction was also presided over by Magistrate Grade 1. Unfortunately, the Magistrates’ Court is not a court of record and this continues to undermine efforts towards identifying and addressing the challenges that it faces in handling juvenile cases. This study has highlighted practice gaps that exist within the juvenile justice system because of its embryonic interdependence on the services of other institutions