Saturday April 19 2014

Disputes in the Judiciary are cause for alarm

By Obed K Katureebe

The Principle Judge is a sad man. At least if one is to go by what he uttered in his statement in the Daily Monitor, April 4 titled, ‘Principle Judge blames govt in Lukwago row’. Indeed, the Principle Judge is sad because what has been going on in the Judiciary where he serves as the “head prefect” of the High Court is poignant.

His lamentations came after the recent court drama where a High Court judge ruled for the reinstatement of the beleaguered Kampala Lord Mayor Erias Lukwago back in office. Lukwago was later thrown out of the very office two hours later by another court injunction given by the Court of Appeal Judge.
The whole episode looked comical and ridiculous. It portrayed a picture of an institution that lacks coherence and had become so partisan.

However, it would be very wrong to portray the mess in the Judiciary using the Lukwago saga as a benchmark. A lot is taking place in the Judiciary that might require surgery before things get better. The on-going disputes between two arms of government - the Executive and the Judiciary are a cause for alarm.
“The High Court makes orders; they are either rubbished by the Executive or reversed immediately. Ironically, we are witnessing this at a time when the Judiciary is all out to enhance public confidence in the institution,” Bamwine said.

But this is not the only incident that should worry the Principle Judge. On the February 19, Kampala witnessed ugly drama. The theatre of action was at Colville Street and it involved two city businessmen to wit Bonney Katatumba and Mukesh Shukla. The two have been wrangling over a building each claiming to be the rightful owner. They have been in court for years and their case seems not about to be concluded. At least, not in the near future. The two bickering tycoons were each carrying a court order purporting to be the rightful owner of the building as instructed by court. One issued by the Deputy Registrar Commercial Court division Thadeus Opesen few days back and another one purportedly annulling Opesen’s but issued by another registrar Irene Akankwasa in charge of Execution and Bailiffs division at the High Court.

Amidst all this chaos, there were the usual hired goons who operate under the cover of court bailiffs. The drama that ensued between the court bailiffs representing the two businessmen depicted the nature of the lot that has eaten up our judicial system. The fracas was so embarrassing that the Principal Judge Yorokamu Bamwine had to intervene as he tried to minimise the level of mortification to the Judiciary.

My consideration of this whole thing of judicial officers making it a habit to dish out injunctions in a very cheap way is motivated by selfish interests.
In the process, people are slowly losing faith in going to court to resolve their matters and have now resorted to taking the law in their hands. Most gruesome murders that grace the media are a result of messed up land cases by our very court systems.

The other alarming trend is how our courts take years and years to resolve land disputes. The earliest any land matter is resolved in Uganda is between 10-20years. Much as the judicial officers will always sight issues to do with lack of enough judges and other judicial officers, the obstinacy with which they handle land/property matters leaves a lot to suspect.

Judicial officers should know that their actions and decisions form the central nerve of human governance. It is after we lose faith in the judicial systems that mankind resorts to primitive instincts of violence. Whatever we do, all of us in charge of several arms of government should be informed of the basic tenets that calls for equality and justice for all us irrespective of our social standings in society.

Finally, something radical ought to be done by those in charge of our Judiciary in order for the citizens to regain confidence in our courts. President Yoweri Museveni has been resolute in cleaning out institutions that had gone to the dogs in terms of corruption. One such institution was Uganda Revenue Authority, the defunct Kampala City Council now turned into Kampala Capital City Authority, and the UPDF and partly the Uganda Police Force. A similar radical overhaul of the Judiciary should be administered because the level of intransigency by judicial officers is getting to everyone’s head both big and small.

Mr Katurebe works with Uganda Media Centre- Office of the President.