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With acting judges, Uganda may end up with acting judiciary - Uganda Law Society

Former PM Rukana Rugunda (L) and Chief Justice Owiny-Dollo and other dignitaries at the Benedicto Kiwanuka Lecture

Former PM Rukana Rugunda (L) and Chief Justice Owiny-Dollo and other dignitaries at the Benedicto Kiwanuka Lecture

The Uganda Law Society (ULS) wants the process of appointing judges opened and subjected to public scrutiny.

The society which is charged with ensuring high levels of professionalism among lawyers in Uganda described the process of appointing judges as opaque.

ULS president, Bernard Oundo, speaking at the 6th Chief Justice Benedicto Kiwanuka memorial lecture in Kampala said it was important to ensure a transparent process of appointment of judges. He said it should be based on merit. This year’s Benedicto Kiwanuka lecture was under the theme; Enhancing Judicial Accountability, Transparency and the Rule of Law.

Oundo suggested that the judiciary must be accountable to the people. He also urged for a performance appraisal system to enhance the accountability of the judiciary to the people of Uganda. He said without a transparent process, the judiciary will continue appointing acting judges in acting capacities. 

Oundo warned the country could end up with an acting judiciary since many of the newly appointed judges are serving in acting capacities. He further noted that even their judgments could risk being categorized as “acting judgments".  

The Constitutional court in December last year ruled that the appointment of judges in an acting capacity contravened the 1995 Constitution and declared the appointments null and void. In a majority ruling of 4:1, the court allowed a petition filed by Makerere University lecturer, Dr Busingye Kabumba and human rights activist, Andrew Karamagi. 

Court ordered the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) to regularize the appointment of the 16 High court judges who were appointed on that basis. President Yoweri Museveni in May this year, acting on the advice of JSC appointed 16 judges of the High court in acting capacity for two years.

This forced Kabumba and Karamagi to challenge the appointment saying it contravened several articles of the constitution and should be overturned. Kabumba and Karamagi in June told the court that the appointment contravened the notion of security of tenure for judicial officers and therefore undermined the provisions of articles 2, 128, 138, 142, 144, and 147 of the Constitution. 

The petition also stated that the appointments in acting capacity violated the independence of the judiciary given that the affected appointees were likely to execute their duties with the fear of retribution, expecting favors, or both.

Besides the appointment of judges in an acting capacity, there have been numerous calls by politicians and some legal experts about the public vetting of the judges to avoid the appointment of undeserving individuals. Some of the judges appointed in recent times have been labeled cadre judges for having worked with the NRM or individuals associated with the ruling NRM party.

Oundo said as lawyers, all they want is to see streamlined merit-based criteria for appointing judicial officers known to the public. He suggested the advertising of vacant positions and the publication of the names of those shortlisted for public scrutiny. 

"In order to ensure transparency and accountability in the process, the appointment and selection criteria should be made accessible to the general public including the qualities required for the higher office. The criteria for appointment, shortlisting, selection and decision-making process should be pre-determined and should be publicly available. We believe that as a bar in order for you to fulfil the transformational agenda, it is important for us to streamline the process," said Oundo.

Oundo also decried the non-respect of court orders by the state agencies by the resident district commissioners (RDCs). He added there is a need to translate the decisions of the Supreme court and other courts to ensure that the judiciary doesn’t leave anyone behind.

In response to the violation of court orders, chief justice Alfonse Owiny-Dollo said he has seen it also happening saying it is not only wrong, contrary to the laws but also sacrilegious and a mockery of justice.  

"I have seen agents of the state committing the sacrilege, purporting to interpret decisions of judicial officers, refusing to implement decisions of judicial officers, court decisions. This is wrong, this is contrary to the principle of the rule of law. Those charged with the responsibility to implement or enforce judicial decisions may have reason to question those decisions [but] the proper place is to come back to the court which issued such decisions if they claim they do not understand the meanings, come back to the courts. Satisfy yourself that this is what the decision of the court is and either facilitate or ensure that the decisions are implemented," said Owiny-Dollo.

Owiny-Dollo called upon all citizens to promote a harmonious and peaceful living by talking to one another and not to wait for them to first get arms to fight. He narrated how difficult it was when he went to Garamba in present-day South Sudan with former Prime Minister Ruhakana Rugunda to talk to Joseph Kony for six hours to stop fighting and how he (Kony) later said he (Dollo) should be killed but later rescinded on his orders.   

He suggested that even when someone wrongs you, there should be a need to start speaking to one another and stop waiting for people to first pick up firearms. He said it would be foolhardy not to embrace the culture of resolving disputes peacefully.

According to Owiny-Dollo, although Kiwanuka was physically taken away from them, he still lives with them and represents hundreds of people whose lives have been cut short because of unnecessary extrajudicial killings. Owiny-Dollo has said Kiwanuka will never die, he was only removed from the people where they would see him physically but he still lives with them. He says he represents hundreds of people whose lives have been cut short because of unnecessary killings.  

In his speech read by former Prime Minister Ruhakana Rugunda, President Museveni said if a chief justice would be killed by Amin, it then means that there are millions of Ugandans he killed who can't be forgotten. Rugunda who is now Museveni’s special envoy said Kiwanuka was an experienced political leader and leader of the Democratic Party which means he was a great national asset given the legal experience and the exposure.  

Museveni wondered how Amin wanted to build state institutions without a chief justice and targeted almost everyone right from religious leaders such as Archbishop Janan Luwum who was kicked, lawyers, politicians, and others in exile. According to Museveni, politics is a context of ideas on how to manage society and distribution of resources and therefore political opposition that is disciplined is good for the country instead of killing one another.    

The keynote speaker was retired Supreme court justice Jotham Tumwesigye. He asked the government to invest more in the judiciary as a priority. Tumwesigye said the judiciary by settling disputes provides stability and national growth.

"The judiciary should never be under control of any person or authority. Independence of the judiciary is necessary to administer justice without fear of anything," said Tumwesigye.

He called upon judicial officers to uphold the judiciary’s core values such as accountability, transparency, rule of law, and equality among others, and pave no room for corruption.

The lecture was attended by several judicial officers and other dignitaries including deputy chief justice Richard Buteera, principal judge Dr Flavian Zeija, chief registrar Sarah Langa Siu and the deputy attorney general Kafuuzi, development partners from foreign governments among others.  


0 #1 Noord 2023-09-23 10:17
Buganda is pushed away by impostors, the only Muganda can be heard of in Uganda judicial system with evidence of the photo above, is Ben Kiwanuka to whom they gathered for a memorial lecture.
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+5 #2 Lysol 2023-09-24 00:46
Under Museveni the judiciary is not separated from the legislative and executive branches, which should be the case in a real constitutional democracy.
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+1 #3 kabayekka 2023-09-25 09:34
Why then did these NRM cadre judges blame the First Non Executive President of this state Muteesa II, for all the historical political crimes.

And decided at once to ban the Ganda traditional political party of Kabaka Yekka exactly like Obote with his UPC did?

Like the Military Commissions of Idi Amin and that of Muwanga did? What these lectures are all about is just Uganda Republican political
hot air.
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0 #4 Lakwena 2023-09-27 08:25
In other words, under the vicious criminal leadership of our "Problem of Africa", Gen Kassim Tibuhaburwa; Ugandans live, fall sick, go to hospital, die ,etc., report to the Police and go to the Courts of Law at their own risk.
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