Judiciary: A look at the career of Justice Kavuma

When Acting Deputy Cheif Justice Steven Kavuma ruled on Monday to overturn a High Court order that had reinstated Lord Mayor Erias Lukwago to office

Friday April 4 2014

Justice Kavuma (L) talks to  Justice Yorokam

Justice Kavuma (L) talks to Justice Yorokam Bamwine at a recent function at High Court in Kampala. PHOTO BY Rachel Mabala 

By Isaac Imaka

It is about a decade since Steven Kavuma last served as state minister for Defence.

One of the highlights of his tenure was his constant insistence, while appearing on the then Light House TV, that Col Jet Mwebaze and his colleagues were alive and safe after the 1998 helicopter crash in the Rwenzori Mountains during the ADF insurgence—government later announced the colonel’s death saying his body had been found atop the snowy mountain.

Appointment to the bench.
Justice Kavuma was in the headlines again when he, while on a panel that delivered judgment on the Black Mamba petition on January 31, 2006 he differed with his other four colleagues on the five points of law raised.

The Uganda Law Society had filed a public interest petition challenging the double trial of Dr Kizza Besigye and 23 of his colleagues before the military court and the High Court.

They were accused of belonging to the shadowy rebel group, the Peoples Redemption Army (PRA), they were at the same time facing charges of terrorism and unlawful possession of firearms before the General Court Martial (GCM) chaired by Gen Elly Tumwine.

They were also facing charges of treason and concealment of treason in the High Court.

In the ruling, the Constitutional Court held that it was unconstitutional to subject the group to criminal proceedings in two courts on charges based on the same facts.

“In principle, there is nothing illegal about charging people with different criminal cases in different courts, but concurrent proceedings in the High Court and the GCM arising out of the same facts is not proper,” said Lady Justice Constance Byamugisha.

However, Justice Kavuma dismissed the entire petition saying it lacked merit.

Since then, if the assessment by his senior colleagues, within and outside the Judiciary, is to go by; his journey so far has been a mixed bag of ‘legapolitical’ challenges— a tight rope of striving to stick to the legal lane and at the same time do a ‘good’ job for the appointing authority and the ruling party.

Ntenjeru South Legislator Patrick Nsanja, also a practicing lawyer in the city, says whereas it is important to scrutinise the conduct of Justice Kavuma by the virtue of his position in the Judiciary, it is incumbent upon him to consider introspection.

Currently, Justice Kavuma is the acting deputy chief justice and in the absence of a substantive Chief Justice—as is the case, he takes on the role and can make decisions with full blessings as the chief justice.
“He is a senior judicial officer who swore an oath to ensure that justice is served to all,” Mr Nsanja said.

He added: “If there is a public outcry about his conduct and his judgments, it is upon him to look into his conduct and reform.”
Of all the appointments to the Judiciary from the NRM political side, Justice Kavuma has stood out with several controversial moments in his year tenure as a judge of the Court of Appeal, with his latest action – bringing to a halt, Kampala Lord Mayor Erias Lukwago’s celebrations after the High Court cancelled his removal from office.

Justice Kavuma, did freeze the High Court orders the very day Mr Lukwago returned to work, and did so exparte (listening to only one side)
A retired bench member-on condition of anonymity- says he sees him as “messing” up the Judiciary.

That it would be fine if Kavuma’s actions reflected badly only on himself but, he argues, Kavuma is at this point, “demeaning the Court.”

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