Lessons Drawn from the Ben Kiwanuka Memorial Lecture 2023

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The Judiciary held its 6th Ben Kiwanuka Memorial lecture at its headquarters in Kampala on 21st September 2023 in memory of former Chief Justice Ben Kiwanuka who was allegedly killed and disappeared by President Idi Amin’s regime. This year’s theme was: Enhancing Judicial Accountability, Transparency, and the Rule of Law.

The invited speakers did justice to the theme, however, for this piece, I wish to reflect on some of the addresses that caught my attention.

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Firstly is that instance, where the President of Uganda Law Society appealed to other arms of government and more so the executive to fight the menace of disrespecting court orders. Chief Justice Alfonse Owiny Dollo in apropos of the same kind of protest and rebuke of this awful practice, said that ’’ it’s a mockery of Justice to have Judicial Officers do what is within their powers and then somebody else, probably ill-equipped to make meaning of the decision refuses to implement it. This is an affront to the rule of law. Either we accept the court of law or we close them and handover this function to other persons…’’

The event made me revisit and reflect on the American novelist and author of the classic novel on race relations in the USA titled ‘’ to Kill a Mocking Bird’ who uses a character known as Atticus.

Atticus is depicted in the novel as a lawyer on defense of one of the protagonists, Thomas Robinson a black man accused of raping a white woman known as Mayella while trying to find solace in courts of law. He debunks one of the famous quotes attributed to the former president of the USA, Thomas Jefferson to the effect that all men are created equal – a phrase that the Yankees and the distant side of the executive branch in Washington were fond of hurling at them when race issues surfaced in the 1930s.

The learned friend said and I paraphrase that men are not created equal and he goes on and herein I quote him verbatim thus: ” But there is one way in this country in which all men are created equal – there is one human institution that makes a pauper the equal of a Rockefeller, the stupid man the equal of an Einstein and the ignorant man the equal of any college president. That institution, gentlemen, is the court. It can be the Supreme Court of the United States or the humblest J.P. court in the land, or this honorable court which you serve. Our courts have their own faults, as does any human institution, but in this country, our courts are the great levelers, and in our courts, all men are created equal…’’ 

I like to believe that this quote perfectly applies with equal force to the Ugandan context just like the US.

Secondly, kudos to the organizers of these memorial lectures. They are vital for, besides judicial Officers speaking through judgments, they provide avenues to both members of the bench and bar to speak to other arms of government many of whom don’t read decisions unless they affect them directly, and yes Judicial officers shouldn’t seat on the fence on these issues.

Lord Donaldson MR in an interview on Channel 4 on 10 February 1989 (as reported in the Guardian), cautions members of the bench thus:  ‘’The Government recognizes that the judges are the great enemies of every government because they are always supporting people who allege that they are being downtrodden by government’

Lastly, I was enraptured as encomiums were being showered to the former Principle Judge the late Justice Jeremiah Ntabgoba on his illustrious career on the bench more so his extraordinary working ethics.

It’s a challenge at a personal level and the young generation at large.

The author is a student at the Law Development Centre (LDC), Kampala Campus and currently on Clerkship at the Court Of Appeal.  

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