Thursday April 10 2014

In defence of the law society

President Museveni has allowed an untenable situation to fester inside the Judiciary following his disputed attempt to re-appoint a retired Chief Justice at the helm of the third arm of government.

Understandably, the law fraternity has finally lost patience with what they believe is a condition that has humiliated and undermined the Judiciary. Two days ago, the Uganda Law Society put the government on a 90-day notice for redress, failing which we could see learned friends and wigged members of the bench sitting down in protest at the law courts. The last time such drastic, but necessary, steps were taken was in 2005 to oppose the outrageous invasion of the High Court precincts by that shadowy commando outfit, the Black Mamba.

This insufferable deterioration in relations shouldn’t have come about if the President had listened to the wise counsel of the Judicial Service Commission before forwarding Mr Benjamin Odoki’s name to Parliament in July 2013.
Our Constitution is categorical; you cannot be Chief Justice after attaining 70 years. It, therefore, befuddles the mind; nay, raises fears of deliberate mischief calculated to hamstring the Judiciary in trying to force our courts to swallow the unlawful re-appointment of their former master.
Some lawyers believe that the Judiciary is slipping into disarray because of the absence of a substantive leader.

Fittingly, an extreme case being trotted out to demonstrate creeping judicial malaise is the alleged disappearance of a file containing particulars of a petition against Mr Odoki’s re-appointment. There are unsettling suspicions hurtling about the corridors of the Court of Appeal about how these documents, which were duly filed in its registry on January 17, may have vanished. It is thought that the criminality which may have enabled their disappearance was encouraged by the flux at the top.

The time has come for reason to prevail. Uganda’s leadership has to accept that the Odoki episode was a bad gamble, however honourable the reasons may have been at the time. This government cannot speak about upholding the rule of law when it is actively breaking the most important law in the land in not appointing the head of the third arm of government and the designee’s deputy as provided for under our Constitution.