Justice Herbert Ntabgoba: “Fearless” Former Principal Judge Dies At 81

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Last updated on July 14th, 2021 at 12:42 pm

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Former Principal Judge Herbert  Ntabgoba Has Passed On, aged 81, the Judiciary says.

According to a highly placed source, the learned Justice has been battling “severe diabetes and hypertension ”


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” He has been resilient. In fact, the last time he was admitted in hospital, we feared the worst ”  the Source, said.

The former head of the High Court of Uganda was hospitalised on Holy Thursday at International Hospital Kampala (IHK) and passed away at around Saturday midnight as Holy Easter set in.


Born in the Western Uganda district of Kisoro around July 1939, Justice Ntabgoba started off as a State Attorney in 1966 and for a year had a stint as an Inspector of Trade Marks in Australia.

He was appointed a Judge in 1978 and later in 1981 as the first Director of the African Regional Intellectual Property Office (ARIPO) based in Harare, Zimbabwe.

He would later return to the Country in 1987 whereupon he was appointed the Principal Judge and retired into private legal practice in 2004.

At the time of his death, Mr Justice Herbert Ntabgoba acted as a Legal Consultant at leading law firm Kampala Associated Advocates (KAA) although sources say he had stopped working due to health challenges.


” Ntabgoba ” translates into ” fearless or simply ” No fear ” and true to his name, he has been described by Senior Lawyers who appeared before him or were close to him as courageous and fearless – rare attributes of a Judge then and now.

” His sterling career was characterised  by exceptional courage and firmness ” eulogised, Mr Alex Rezida, a partner at Nangwala Rezida and Company Advocates in an interview with The Legal Reports.

” He manned the office of PJ with admirable courage and predictable steadfastness. The pillar of wisdom and courage has rested ”

Mr James Nangwala, also a partner at Nangwala Rezida and Company Advocates speaks of the late Justice Ntabgoba as:

” An outstanding jurist and administrator”

According to the Senior Lawyer, who has been at the centre of some of the country’s land mark media law cases;

” He administered the High Court very well while at the same time performing judicial functions on a day-to-day basis.

” He used to deliver his decisions very fast. May God rest his soul eternally. What a pity he died at a trying time ”

On his part, Criminal Lawyer Moses Tugume of Tugume and Byansi Company Advocates remembers the deceased thus:

” While still a state attorney in the DPP [Office], I argued a criminal appeal before him [ Banyengela vs Uganda].

” The appeal had risen from a decision of Her Worship Catherine Bamugemereire then a Chief Magistrate at Buganda Road ( Now a Court of Appeal Justice).

“At the end of the submissions, he told both counsel to wait for a typed copy of his judgement but he went ahead to direct that a copy of the same should be given to the Learned trial Chief Magistrate so that she doesn’t repeat the same mistakes [the errors pointed out in the judgement] in future.”

Mr Phillip Karugaba of ENSAfrica is one of the pioneers of Public Interest Litigation in Uganda under Article 50 of the Constitution which allows persons not directly affected by an action or omission to challenge such action or omission on behalf of those it directly affects.

He argued the landmark case of The Environmental Action Network (TEAN) against the Attorney General and National Environment Management Authority (NEMA), Miscellaneous Application No. 39/2001, in which the plaintiff contended that by failing or delaying to make regulations requiring British American Tobacco (BAT) and other tobacco manufacturers and vending companies in Uganda to display a warning of the dangers of smoking on their tobbacco cigarette packs, NEMA and the relevant government minister were violating the right to life and the right to a clean and healthy environment since Tobbacco is a dangerous product.

The Attorney General, in opposition of the case argued that the plaintiff had no locus standi to bring the case since it was an organisation and not the tobbacco smokers.

In dismissing the opposition, and thereby setting a watershed moment for social Justice and accountability through the courts, Justice Ntabgoba held that the Constitution of Uganda under Article 50 recognised the existence of vulnerable persons who may not be possessed with the resources or knowledge to effectively defend their rights and therefore any person even when not directly affected could sue on their behalf.

Phillip remembers the learned Justice in these words:

” Justice Ntabgoba’s ruling was true to the ancient geography of his ancestral roots in Kisoro. It was a volcanic eruption completely overturning the established legal norms.

” It is he who opened the doors to the vast plains of Public Interest Litigation”

” May his soul rest in eternal peace. He fought a good fight. He did his bit. When the time comes, we pray that the same may be said of us. ”

( Article updated in Paragraph 22 and 23 to remove BAT as a party in that case, add it and other companies as subjects of the case and provide more context for clarity purposes)

Editor’s Note: The deceased Learned Principal Judge Herbert Ntabgoba can’t be adequately described and eulogised in our pages.

We, at the Legal Reports, shall always remember him for his evident courage and ” volcanic” Judicial personality.

We pray to the Lord to Bless His Soul. Rest Well Our Lord.

[ Some of the tributes were obtained by text and the senders have waived their privacy in respect of them]


Benjamin Ahikiiriza is a Legal Writer And Digital Communications & Marketing Specialist majoring in Lawyers, Law Firms And the larger Legal Sector.

Benjamin currently Works as the Director of Content and Business Development At LegalReports.

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