Webinar: Improving the relationship between the Bench and the Bar

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Webinars are commonplace in the COVID-19 era. The legal profession is simply following the other sectors in conducting business through this digital platform.

And thus, on Friday, the 22nd, a virtual session was held by Advocate Rashid Ssemambo, currently contesting for the Presidency of the Uganda Law Society, on how the relationship between the Bench and the Bar can be improved.

The panelists included Supreme Court Judge Hon. Lady Justice Dr. Esther Kitimbo Kisaakye, High Court Judge Justice Lydia Mugambe, Advocate Joseph Kyazze, Advocate Mandala Mambulase – the former President of the Malawi Law Society, and Advocate Dr. Benson Chinedu Olugbuo from Nigeria.

Hon. Lady Justice Dr. Esther Kisaakye made it clear in her preliminary points that the Bar and the Bench are both institutions – the Uganda Law Society and the Judiciary respectively, and asĀ  such should not be looked at individually.

She then delved into the problems facing both sides that grossly affect the other. On the side of the Bench, she pointed out the fact that some lawyers fail to meet the timelines set such as filing paperwork in time and substandard pleadings.

On the other side of the coin, she cried foul on certain aspects of the Judiciary such as judges who deliver substandard judgments and those who delay in issuing judgments.

She also addressed issues of decorum such as the way judges relate to each other – which is supposed to courteous, but is sometimes not followed by judges.

Justice Kisaakye also hinted on issues of integrity where some judges did not respect the profession and acted dishonorably in being corrupt, biased and unfair.

Furthermore, she urged all stakeholders in the Judiciary to strengthen the area of Public Interest Litigation. She believes that lawyers should not only bring to court “individual cases but also cases with wider benefit for the wider community.” She also tasked the Judiciary to meet its objectives and to respect the independence of the Judiciary but also check on its quality in terms of the quality of judgments.

Justice Lydia Mugambe on her part, tasked members of both institutions to look for their moral test.

“What is your moral test? When we get to do things, do we remember the oaths we take or is it all about money? We need to reevaluate ourselves.”

Mr. Joseph Kyazze admitted that the relationship can be strengthened by the appreciation of the nature of the relationship between the bar and the bench and creation of a conducive environment in which either party can execute their duties.

He reiterated Justice Kisaakye’s remarks while adding the need to embrace mobile technology to ensure faster and effective communication and the need for positive criticism to be adopted by either party. He described this criticism as “criticism with a view of learning from it” and stressed its importance for the purpose of positive legal development.

Additionally, Mr. Kyazze urged the bar and the bench to undertake comparative studies from other jurisdictions. According to him, this will help to benchmark and evaluate what needs to be incorporated to improve the relationship.

Mr. Mandala Mambulase on his part stated that the Bar and the Bench were “collaborators”, rather than “competitors” and he urged both parties to work together. He also suggested professional development programmes for better service delivery.

Advocate Rashid Ssemambo tackled the issue of appointments by stating that criteria appointment of both judicial officers and law practitioners should be on clear terms and only those who qualify in terms of virtue and ethics and knowledge should succeed and go on to the Bench.

He added that for legal practitioners, there should be a way someone grows in the profession by considering, among other things, what you have done for the profession, how you have mentored young lawyers and how you have helped enrich the jurisprudence in the country.

Finally, Dr. Benson Chinedu Olugbuo, addressed the whole issue from a different perspective; the Nigerian one. He provided solutions such as improving the quality of legal education since it affects the kind of legal practitioners and judicial officers produced. He also urged lawyers to adhere to the professional code of conduct.

Mr. Olugbuo was also quick to jump on Counsel Ssemambo’s issue of appointments by criticizing the politicization of appointments based on trivial issues such as nepotism and tribalism, rather than doing it on merit.

The whole virtual event was a balancing act that got views and opinions from members of both the Bench and the Bar. The issues addressed are of paramount importance and the solutions can make the legal profession in Uganda prestigious, honorable and desirable.


( With Assistance by Owach Ritah)

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