17 January 2013

Uganda: Pay Judges More, Keep Them Longer

Photo: This Day
Symbol of justice.


The Chief Justice, Benjamin Odoki, used the just-ended judges' conference to repeat what he has said before, that judicial officers are underpaid.

We couldn't agree more, and we've said as much before. Why the government is taking so long to rectify this anomaly, if not injustice, remains a mystery. With rising crime and rampant corruption, among other evils, Uganda can't afford to neglect her judicial officers.

Better pay is likely to get you better motivation and also higher propensity to resist corruption tendencies. It also means the bench can attract the best lawyers from the more lucrative private legal practice.

The chief justice also lamented the delay to appoint judges to fill vacancies on the bench. It is disappointing that the appointing authority has dragged his feet on this issue, thus exacerbating the acute backlog problem. For instance, the Supreme court is right now unable to hear constitutional appeals because it lacks full Coram.

The irony is that while the government is unable to hire new judges, it continues to let several experienced and competent judges to retire every year. It is, indeed, baffling that the High court in particular has lost several good judges in the last couple of years because they clocked 65 years, yet many positions remain vacant.

According to our constitution, High court judges retire at 65 years while their Court of Appeal and Supreme court counterparts retire at 70.

Why should we let our judges go home when they are still able to perform and yet struggle to find able replacements?

A healthy 65 or 70-year-old judge would be in position to serve for another five or 10 years if the law was changed to permit that. Frankly, we don't see any reason why that law can't change. As a result of this law, Uganda's loss is always likely to be other countries' gain.

For instance, the widely respected Justice John Bosco Katutsi, who retired last year, is now dispensing judicial duties in West Africa. Justice Odoki himself is due to retire later this year and will probably find himself an expatriate job too.

It's high time the government found some more money for the judges and also revisited the law on their retirement.

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