Sunday July 20 2014

Length of tenure, and not age of Chief Justice, should be the decisive factor

By Prof George W. Kanyeihamba

As Ugandans, we do not seem to stop reinventing the wheel in governance.

About a decade ago, the Judiciary leaderships of both retired Chief Justices Wako Wambuzi and Benjamin Odoki carried out intensive investigations and research into the tenures of judges and Chief Justices’ terms and conditions of service.

A committee chaired by this columnist and composed of eminent Justices James Oogola, the late Justice Amos Twinomuguni, Justice Engonda-Ntende, Justice Godhino Okello and senior administration officers, including the Secretary to the Judiciary and Chief Registrar, was established.

Supreme Court judges, especially Justice John Tsekooko, the late Justice Arthur Oder, Justice Alfred Karokora and the former Deputy Chief Justice Kikonyogo Mukasa, made significant contributions to the report.

The report was extensively debated and modified in a series of judges’ meetings for more than a year. Finally, a modified voluminous report of the Judiciary was debated in those meetings and adopted by the judges of all divisions.

One of the major recommendations which, if I recall correctly, was enthusiastically welcomed by the then incumbent Chief Justice Benjamin Odoki was that the tenure of the Chief Justice of Uganda should be limited to a 10-year tenure regardless of age and in any event that where applicable, retiring Chief Justices should continue working full time as members of the Supreme Court until it is decided otherwise.

Ugandans wonder what happened to that Report. Since then, the Judiciary and Parliament have reinvented new Reports and draft Bills apparently oblivious to that fully researched report.

It is worth noting that the Judiciary owes a great deal of gratitude to Lord Justice Tsekooko who carried out extensive enquiries in the Judiciaries of the Commonwealth and other common law countries to enrich the content of the report.

It would be an act of folly if those clamoring for Uganda to have an Act to govern and control the Uganda Judiciary were not to obtain and carefully study that report and consider whether the whole of it or parts thereof should not form part of the proposed bill.

We have had two long serving Chief Justices in East Africa; Chief Justice Wambuzi of Uganda and Chief Justice Nyalanli of Tanzania.

These are two jurists of exceptional talent and experience and worked under varied but ideal conditions and circumstances. It is unlikely that the region will soon produce the likes of them.

Currently, there is a national outcry about the death of good qualified and impartial judges and candidates for judicial offices.

Amongst that lot, there are several who have been appointed judges or judicial officers but have failed to make the grades of what is expected of competent, impartial and incorruptible cadres. Those who qualify have been subjected to intimidation, ridicule and bouts of deprivations of facilities.

Those who are favoured by some members of the Executive or other arms of government and to some extent, by the Uganda Law Society leadership are of such calibre with low standards of integrity that one shudders with indignation that any of them could become Chief Justice.

Unfortunately, as things stand today, it is from this most undesirable group of judicial officers or lawyers who are most favoured to produce future Chief Justices of the Pearl of Africa.

It is mind-boggling that these young cadres could one day be senior judges and Judicial officers in their early 40s and 50s and hence gain the power to mismanage and preside over and tolerate injustices in the Judiciary until they are 75 years old.

May the Lord God Almighty, the Protector and the Merciful forbid such occurrence and guide the people of Uganda to limit the tenures of our leaders whether political, NGO activists, religions and socialites to know when to quit office.

Prof Kanyeihamba is a retired Supreme Court judge.