We chase judges over age but politicians serve until death

Thursday January 23 2020
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Rehemah Nassuna

I have been wondering and still have an intriguing question on whether exiting judges on account of the existing mandatory retirement ages does not offend common sense.
They are retired at a time when they have accumulated rich judicial experience and knowledge but thereafter government returns them on contract or they take their service outside the country.

Retirement implies a person has outlasted their professional usefulness and are at a point of diminishing returns. If they are retired on account that they are of little or no more value, then why bring them back on contract?

For example, Justice Moses Mukiibi was head of the International Crimes Division (ICD) of the High Court for only six years and the court is only 10 years old. He was the lead judge in most of the big cases at the Division such as Kwoyelo, Jamil Mukulu and Mumbere and did a lot other developments at the court. He retired in May 2019 aged 65. He took with him the vast knowledge and experience from the so many years of training abroad in transitional justice and experience in cases of Crimes against Humanity and Terrorism. Yet there are many pending cases at the ICD which would have benefitted a lot from his rich experience and knowledge.

There has been growing interest to review the mandatory retirement age for judicial officers in Uganda recently but this has not been accorded due and urgent attention.

The Judicial Service Commission has already advertised the job of the Chief Justice, which will fall vacant soon. The honourable Chief Justice Bart Magunda Katureebe will retire on June 15, at the age of 70. His Lordship Yorokamu Bamwine, the former Principal Judge, already retired on December 25, 2019 at the age of 65.

In a country where we have no age limit on the position of the head of state and politicians in Parliament are at liberty to serve beyond 70, even up to the age when they can no longer tell wood from trees, it would make the retirement of judges look like retrenchment.
Isn’t it even discriminatory that officials in the first and second arm of government (Executive and Parliament) have no mandatory retirement age but the third arm (Judiciary) is made an exception?

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It is counterintuitive to pay retirement costs for judges who are still good and then appoint new judges. Currently magistrates retire at 60 years, High Court judges at 65 while Court of Appeal and Supreme Court justices retire at 70 years.

At a time when the judiciary is suffering from a staggering case backlog and the biggest reason being shortage of manpower, logic dictates that the country would rather be exploring how to double the numbers of judges instead of shrinking the existing thin bench through retirement of those that are still very productive, giving other countries free advantage to take accomplished human resource.
Judicial retirement ages instead deprive the courts of experience and expertise. Currently the judiciary has 82 judges serving a population of 44 million people.
Who loses when these judges leave the country to offer their services elsewhere? The judges or country and government?

It should be noted that it is quite a rigorous process to get to the level of a judge in Uganda right from the four years studying law at university, another year at the Law Development Centre, several years practising or serving in the legal profession at different ranks from a judicial officer, Magistrate Grade 1, Chief Magistrate, Assistant Registrar, Deputy Registrar, Registrar and then judge of High Court. By this time, a judicial officer is already in their late 40s or early 50s.
Retiring such a person after serving for just 10 or 15 years is a huge loss to the country. With the average life expectancy of Ugandans improving and modern medicine allowing people to remain strong and active longer than before, many of the old concepts relating to retirement should be reviewed.
The retirement ages were often put in place to contend with judges who had aged into inability but with formation of the Judicial Service Commission, they can deal with judges who are unable to carry out their duties.

Ms Nassuna is a communication specialist.
remmynjuki@gmail.com

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