The Judicial Service Commission is investigating allegations of corruption in the Court of Appeal and other lower courts following claims that junior and senior judges pocket bribes to bungle cases.
Since they are being treated as suspects, the names of the officials under investigation were not made public in Parliament yesterday where the information was revealed by JSC chair, Mr James Ogoola, himself a retired principal judge. Mr Ogoola painted a picture of desperate conditions in the Judicial Service, observing that some judges were mortgaging their salaries to make ends meet.
“We do a lot of work disciplining judicial officers but the public don’t get to know 100 per cent what happens. There is a good reason for it. These are disciplinary issues, not criminal issues and we don’t want to run the risk of finding them innocent and asking them go back to the bench,” Justice Ogoola said.
JSC officials were in the committee on Legal and Parliamentary Affairs to present their budget requirements for the 2013/14 financial year.
Justice Ogoola said there are three complaints involving some judges. He expressed some concern that complaints of this nature, which generally used to emerge from the lower benches, has now been exposed higher up.
As long as we get “mediocres” in the service, Justice Ogoola said, “the risk [of being compromised] is very real”.
He, however, refused to accept the notion that lack of integrity is because of poor pay although he admitted that corruption on the higher benches is giving him “sleepless nights”. He said that even if the government doubles the judges salaries, temptation will persist.
“These judges forsake all and commit to one thing: judging. In all professions, a judge’s life is most awkward, they are permanent students; they carry books and judgements and cannot even go to the bar...; they need a comfortable life on the bench and off the bench.”
Concerns about corruption
Mr Ogoola responded to Oyam North MP Kripus Ayena’s concerns about corruption in the Judiciary thus: “The worst things normally happen off the bench. There are some things I can’t say here but we have judges who are mortgaging their salaries for their livelihood and many of them are seriously sick...”
“We are dealing with mostly integrity issues where those who commit them are not fools, these are elegant and clever lawyers who have become judges and magistrates and we need a lot of skills to investigate these cases which we don’t have,” he said.
On the recruitment of new judges, Justice Ogoola said the JSC started sending the names in October and that another batch was sent to the President in November. He also told the committee that the prisons in Uganda are congested because, in Uganda, “we arrest people and look for evidence”. “The rights of people have been trampled upon by being in prisons without being charged. When you go to prisons, you will find babies are prisoners with their mothers. What sort of citizens will they be?”