MPs reject proposal to increase Supreme Court judges

Supreme Court judges led by Chief Justice Alfonse Owiny-Dollo (3rd left) before they sat to hear a presidential election petition filed by former candidate Robert Kyagulanyi, alias Bobi Wine, on February 11, 2021.PHOTO | FILE

Parliament yesterday passed the Judicature (Amendment) Bill, 2023, rejecting a proposal to increase the number of Supreme Court justices from 11 to 21.

The House, however, endorsed the increment of the number of Court of Appeal justices by 20.
Government on November 22 tabled the Judicature (Amendment) Bill, 2023, on November 22, and Speaker Anita Among, chairing the House then, called for expeditious handling of the Bill, saying it would help government effectively and efficiently deliver justice to the people and to deal with case backlog in the Supreme Court.

In rejecting the proposal to increase the number of Supreme Court justices, the Committee on Legal and Parliamentary Affairs argued that this would not address the concerns of case backlog as fronted by the government.

 “Even if the number of justices of the Supreme Court is increased, those measures will not be successful in dealing with the issue of case backlog in the Supreme Court since the cases arising from the lower court will not be abated,” the report states.

Ms Robinah Rwakoojo, the committee chairperson, said the highest backlog is born at the lower courts, and increasing officials there would be more effective.

The legislators were also concerned that the move would increase government expenditure. Every Supreme Court justice earns Shs25 million, and other benefits, including housing and security detail.

Upon retirement, they are entitled to a monthly benefit equivalent to 80 percent of the salary for the rest of their lives.

The committee recommended the appointment of justices at the Supreme Court in acting capacity under Article 142 (2) of the Constitution.

“The Chief Justice will be given powers to appoint justices on acting capacity than the ones on permanent who are not working and are just on holiday,” Ms Among said in support of the proposal.
Mr Nobert Mao, the Justice and Constitutional Affairs Minister, laboured to convince the House in vain.

The number of justices of the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal were last increased in 2011 with the current Supreme Court staffing at 11 justices, including the Chief Justice, while the number of justices of the Court of Appeal stands at 15, including the Deputy Chief Justice.

Parliament allowed for the Court of Appeal justices to be increased by 20 to 35.

Government had proposed the number be increased to 56, with the intent to operationalise eight regional courts of appeal and address the backlog, which currently stands at 5,882 cases and 9,888 pending cases.

The legislators on the committee raised recommendations to address backlog, including review and expansion of the pecuniary jurisdiction of magistrates courts to ensure that cases, which are currently filed at the High Court, can be disposed of at the magisterial level, thereby reducing the case backlog in upper courts.