Kampala. A retired Justice of the Supreme Court has pointed out that the number of cadre judges making it to the bench is rising, which is undermining the integrity and independence of Uganda’s judiciary.
The phrase “cadre judges” is a reference to judges whose case judgments suggest are determined more by their allegiance to the government than on the evidence produced before court during the trial.
In an interview with Saturday Monitor at his home in Naguru suburb on Thursday, Justice Wilson Tsekooko, a senior legal consultant with a Kampala law firm Waluku and Mooli Advocates, asserted that some of the judgments coming from the courts today leave a lot to be desired and cast doubt on the independence of the judges.
“Yes, that thing [cadre judges] is there. It seems to be increasing because occasionally you get some of the judgments and you can’t understand they are from judges who are supposed to be independent. There are rumours some judges consult some politicians when they have cases with political implications to get a shape of the ruling. This is terrible! It is not proper,” Justice Tsekooko said.
He said this situation is undermining the integrity of Uganda’s judiciary, once acclaimed as one of the most independent in Commonwealth Africa.
However, the judiciary’s Senior communications officer, Mr Solomon Muyita, denied the claims of cadre judges.
“Justice Tsekooko left the judiciary last year and during his tenure he didn’t go on the record in regard to cadre or non-cadre judges. Indeed we are not aware of cadre judges in the system because the JSC rigorously vets, recommends to the president who appoints and parliament approves the competent ones. We cannot have cadre judges in such a rigorous system of checks and balances,” he said.
In the last round of promotions to the Supreme Court, a member of the Judicial Service Commission told this reporter that Court of Appeal Justices Remmy Kasule and Egonda Ntende, who had passed interviews and are considered some of the best judges given their past record, were deleted from list after the Commission had recommended them to the President for appointment.
This claim could not be independently verified.
Justice Egonda once served as Chief Justice of Seychelles on contract.
There are concerns about inexperienced judges being parachuted to the last appellate court in the land riding on their political loyalty to the ruling party.
Four-time presidential candidate Dr Kizza Besigye has vowed not to return to the Supreme Court to challenge a presidential election citing cadre judgeship.
The Besigye petition
In 2001 and 2006, Justice Tsekooko was among the minority judges that allowed Besigye’s petition (annulled Museveni’s victory) and called for fresh elections.
Interestingly though, the retired judge who joined the bench in 1990 said he was pleasantly surprised by President Museveni’s appointment despite an incident in 1980 when he, as a lawyer, represented former president Milton Obote in a defamation case then candidate Museveni had filed against Obote.
At the peak of the election campaign in 1980, Obote had allegedly made remarks that suggested Museveni was not a Ugandan to qualify for election. Museveni sued Obote for defamation and counsel Tsekooko had been instructed to defend Obote against the case. The case never took off as Obote was elected president and Museveni went to the bush to wage a guerrilla war. Tsekooko was Obote’s lawyer and a strong Uganda Peoples Congress cadre who was elected MP in 1980.
“Then after that you can see in 1990, Museveni appointed me a judge after that experience. Other people wouldn’t have appointed me even though I didn’t apply for judgeship. Definitely most people wouldn’t. Then in 1994, there was a vacancy at the Supreme Court, the Judicial Service Commission recommended me and he appointed me, so it shows he has good qualities as well,” Justice Tsekooko said of Museveni.
Commenting on the just concluded presidential election petition, he disagreed with former Supreme Court justice Prof George Kanyeihamba who castigated the court for failing to inquire into the election. He said the court can only restrict itself to the evidence presented before it.
Advice to judges
In deciding presidential election petitions, Justice Tsekooko observed that the judges should invest thought by “tossing a mental coin” in their assessment of the evidence presented before them in order to establish the effect of the irregularities on the final election outcome rather than sticking to the strict legal meaning of the words in the law which require that to annul the poll, the errors complained thereof must have “affected the election outcome in a substantial manner.”
The retired judge also shared his sympathy for Dr Besigye’s on his house arrest by police and restriction of his movements and Mr Mbabazi’s petition, which he said theft of his affidavits of evidence and intimidation of witnesses affected his case fatally.
Find the full interview in Sunday Monitor tomorrow