Lawyers Drag Gov’t to Court Over Appointment of Judges in “Acting” Capacity

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As you might have guessed, this is hardly the first time that the appointments to the judiciary of Uganda are a subject of controversy.

Which one of you, staunch news readers and analysts of the law can forget the President’s attempt to retain former Chief Justice, Benjamin Odoki in his position despite attaining retirement age or the bold allegations that his deputy was besmirched by corruption?

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Now the matter of contention before the constitutional court lies in the appointment of judges to the high court in acting capacity for a period of two years.

In a press release by the Judicial service commission dated 25th of May 2022, a list of sixteen names; nine female and seven male, was forwarded to the public, expressly highlighting their appointment to the high court by the President.

Quite interestingly, the release took good care to point out that this is the largest number ever appointed and justifies this move as a strategy to check on the back log of cases and improve the capacity of the High court.

A few skeptics with only an on the surface understanding of the law may have viewed this as a parallel to the executive and its eighty or so ministers, many of whom they consider strangers to the public and worse, puppets of the president. The legal background of these appointees has unfortunately done nothing to allay their fears.

But then, as in even the most basic aspects of life, there is a ray of light, a beacon of hope, a coat of many colors.

In elementary social studies we learn that there are three arms of government, the executive, parliament and the judiciary, each of these being independent of the other. Therefore, the president, as the head of the executive should be unable to interfere in the matters of the judiciary as his critics say he does in the executive.

Herein lies the primary concern of the Court petitioners, Dr. Busingye Kabumba and Andrew Karamagi. In their petition, the lawyers argue that the president’s appointment of judges in acting capacity is unconstitutional and derogatory to the independence of the judiciary.

For those of us not properly acquainted with the term acting capacity, it simply means temporarily. According to their submission, there is an implication that such a move would turn judicial officers into contracted employees of the president, as after every two years there would be impetus to retain or replace them as he sees fit.

They have prayed for a declaration that the appointments of the sixteen judges be made permanent as contemplated in the constitution.
At the moment we await the response of the Attorney General who is the legal representative of government.

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