Three judges face off in CJ race

Saturday March 21 2020
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Chief Justice Bart Katureebe. FILE PHOTO

Deputy Chief Justice Alfonse Owiny-Dollo and two Supreme Court judges were among the pool of an unspecified number of applicants who were last week interviewed by the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) as the search for a replacement for Chief Justice Bart Katureebe enters the final bend.
The other two Supreme Court judges are Esther Kisaakye Kitimbo and Richard Buteera.
Mr Katureebe is set to retire in June when he reaches the 70 year mark, the retirement age for the Chief Justice.
The three judges appeared before an eight-member panel of JSC on the morning of March 11 for the interviews.

Panel
The JSC panel was led by Justice Benjamin Kabiito, the chairperson, and his deputy Justice Faith Mwondha.
Attorney General William Byaruhanga, Ms Ruth Sebatindira, who represents Uganda Law Society, and other members; Norah Matovu Winyi, Dr Laban Nnini Kirya , Rosemary Nyakikongoro and Christine Amongin Aporu, completed the list.
We were unable to ascertain the exact number of applicants who were finally interviewed, but sources knowledgeable about the process told Saturday Monitor that Abdu Katuntu, the retiring Bugweri Country MP, had also expressed interest in the job.
Asked whether he was interviewed for the position, Mr Katuntu declined to comment.
It is not clear at what point the JSC will come out to officially present the names or the name they will send to President Museveni for appointment, but at a media briefing hosted at the Commission’s headquarters in Kampala in January, Justice Kabiito had promised a process that would be as translucent as possible.
Justice Kabiito, pressed on why the process has turned out to be rather opaque, ruled out holding public interviews, saying such a methodology would be counterproductive as the Kenya experience has proved.
Kenya has since dropped the open method of vetting judges on grounds that it smears peoples’ careers, forcing many not to apply.
JSC has stuck to its conservative tradition of playing cards close to its chest as other stakeholders are kept guessing the outcome.
Sources within JSC, who spoke on condition of anonymity since they aren’t allowed to speak to the press, explained that interviews weren’t arduous but rather an “interface” with these judges who were tasked to explain how they envisage the future Judiciary, which is currently cash- strapped.
The interviewers, according to sources, demanded that each of these very experienced candidates explains in detail the most pressing issues in the Judiciary and how they would tackle them.
“They were asked general questions on how they want to take the Judiciary forward,” the source said.
The trio, according to sources, predictably stressed the need to bankroll the Judiciary such that judicial officers run out of excuses not to perform.
The Judiciary runs on Shs181.61b a year, which the people running it say is too little. Judges have also complained about being few in numerical terms.
When aggregated, Uganda at all levels, has only 83 judges and they are supposed to serve more than 42 million people who are increasingly litigious, something the Judiciary big wigs say isn’t sustainable.
In a bid to drive this point home, in his presentation to the interviewers, Justice Owiny-Dollo reportedly quoted former British premier, Winston Churchill, “Give us the tools and we will finish the job.”

Chances of success
Though the process of choosing the head of the Judiciary is normally unpredictable since it normally goes down to a mixture of tribal and political calculations, Justice Owiny-Dollo, who has been heading both the Constitutional Court and Court of Appeal since 20I7, is a favourite for many within the Judiciary.
If he is appointed by President Museveni to this much sought-after- job, Justice Owiny-Dollo will go down in history as the first person to become Chief Justice having served as deputy.
At the Court of Appeal, which he joined in 2016, Justice Owiny-Dollo, 64, will be remembered for taking the Constitutional Court away from its headquarters in the capital to the eastern Uganda town of Mbale – purposely to hear the consolidated petition that challenged the controversial move by Parliament to lift presidential age limits from the Constitution- a shenanigan that many said dashed Uganda’s hope of witnessing a peaceful transfer of power.

RICHARD BUTEERA

If Richard Buteera’s name makes it to President Museveni’s desk it would send foreboding among the Opposition ranks. Justice Buteera, 65, served as Director of Public Prosecutions from 1995 to 2013 and will be remembered by Museveni’s opponents as the person who sanctioned preposterous charges such rape and treason against Dr Kizza Besigye back in 2005 when he mounted a challenge on Museveni’s hold onto power.
In 2013, he was catapulted by Museveni to the Court of Appeal/ Constitutional Court. He immediately authored the lead judgment throwing NRM’s rebel MPs Theodore Ssekikubo (Lwemiyaga) Barnabas Tinkasimiire ( Buyaga West), Muhammad Nsereko ( Kampala Central) and Wilfred Niwagaba (Ndorwa East) out of Parliament on grounds that they lost their seats upon their expulsion from the ruling party. The judgment was years later reversed by the Supreme Court, giving the four MPs a lifeline.
Though many remember him as DPP and now as a justice of the Supreme Court who recused himself from the age limit case, Buteera’s resume indicates that his relationship with the Judiciary is traced back in 1981 when he joined as a lowly grade one magistrate before rising through the ranks to become Chief Registrar of courts of judicature in Uganda. While many insist that his tenure as DPP left an everlasting stain on Buteera’s career it remains to be seen whether JSC and Museveni hold a similar evaluation.

ESTHER K KITIMBO
She was recently thrust in limelight when she sued retired Supreme Court Judge George Wilson Kanyeihamba for allegedly defaming her in a book.
Justice Kisaakye, a passionate feminist, has once again been interviewed for a top position in the Judiciary. In 2017 when Justice Kavuma retired, she applied for the position of Deputy Chief Justice but didn’t make it to the final list that was sent to Museveni’s office.
She hopes this time her bid for the highest office in the Judiciary will be successful which will forever make her Uganda’s first female Chief Justice.
There are a number of good reasons for Justice Kisaakye who has earned the moniker of “dissenting judge” to be upbeat about her chances. Once Katureebe’s 15- year- old judicial career ends, Justice Kisaakye will be the most senior judge at the Supreme Court just like Justice Katureebe was when Chief Justice Benjamin Odoki retired albeit acrimoniously in 2013. Just like Katureebe, Kisaakye has only served at the Supreme Court ever since she was tapped from Makerere University where she was lecturing law in 2009. She is the only woman in the race and those close to her say she thinks this could swing the pendulum in her favour. In fact, Justice Alice Mpagi Bagiheine, who was the Deputy Chief Justice between 20010 and 2012, was the last female to hold a big position in the Judiciary. In one of her famous dissenting judgments, she was remarkably, in concurrence with Museveni’s thoughts. Kisaakye ruled that the rebel MPs were aliens in Parliament following their expulsion from the party. Sadly, the other six judges on the panel didn’t concur with her.

Justice Owiny-Dollo
If he is appointed by President Museveni to this sought-after- job, Justice Owiny-Dollo will be the first person to become Chief Justice having served as deputy.
At the Court of Appeal, which he joined in 2016, Justice Owiny-Dollo, 64, will be remembered for taking the Constitutional Court away from its headquarters in the capital to the eastern Uganda town of Mbale – purposely to hear the consolidated petition that challenged the controversial move by Parliament to lift presidential age limits from the Constitution- a shenanigan that many said dashed Uganda’s hope of witnessing a peaceful transfer of power.
Owiny-Dollo, who was appointed in 1996 as a minister in charge of Northern Uganda Reconstruction Programme and also part of the Museveni’s 2006 legal team in the Supreme Court when his election was challenged by Dr Kizza Besigye as riddled with fraud, has since defended his decision saying that though the case was heard in Mbale the actual writing of the judgments took place in Kampala.
He was among the four judges out of the five that adjudged the process used to strikeout age limits from the Constitution was constitutional, a ruling which was later confirmed by the Supreme Court.
For the three years he has been the head of Court of Appeal which doubles as the Constitutional Court, he has been credited for salvaging the image of the court which had been soiled by his predecessor Justice Steven Kavuma

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