12 May 2013

Uganda: Who Are the New Judges?

The judiciary has been plagued by a huge case backlog, inadequate infrastructure and few judges on the bench.

To get the courts up and running at full throttle, the Judicial Service Commission nominated justices to the Supreme Court and Court of Appeal to fill the vacant slots. Parliament will vet the nominees this week. In the first part of a two-part series, Sulaiman Kakaire asks who the nominees really are.

Amos Twinomujuni, 67 - Supreme court:

Many people familiar with the judiciary refer to him as one of the most open-minded judges the country has ever had. After graduating from law school, Twinomujuni joined the judiciary in 1973 as a Magistrate Grade One and thereafter rose through the ranks to become a Chief Magistrate. In 1981, he was appointed as a deputy Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) and later became DPP from 1984 to 1986. From 1986 to 1995, he served as a director at Law Development Centre (LDC).

Before returning to the bench as a Judge of the Court of Appeal in 1997, he served as Director of Special Programmes in the Office of the President. At his appointment to the Court of Appeal, many looked at him as a cadre judge after his stint in the Office of the President but most of his rulings reflect a progressive judge in constitutional interpretation.

The Supreme Court has upheld most of his dissenting opinions, including the landmark ruling in the case of Charles Onyango-Obbo and Andrew Mwenda that found that publishing false news as provided under section 50 of the Penal Code was null and void.

"I believe I have said all there is to say about section 50 of the Penal Code. In my humble judgment it is an anachronism that has outlived its usefulness (if it ever had any in Uganda). It was introduced during the colonial rule as an instrument of repression ... However, it has no place in a free and democratic society that the promulgation of the 1995 Constitution ushered in Uganda," he wrote in his opinion.

In the case of Mifumi and Others V Attorney General, he also observed that the payment of bride price violates a woman's right to dignity and equality with men under articles 21, 24, 33(1), and 33(6) of the Constitution because it equates women with property.

In addition to being degrading, Twinomujuni added that treating women as property, contributes to violence and domestic abuse by perpetuating the societal belief that husbands are free to do what they want with their wives once they have paid for them. Under the same reasoning, he said that bride price violates the right to equality under articles 21(1) and 21(2) because creating conditions where women are treated as their husbands' property is fundamentally inconsistent with the notion of equality.

His appointment to the Supreme court has been welcomed as long overdue, although some worry that it comes in the twilight of his career because he is left with only three years to retire.

Stella Mary Arach Amoko, 59 - Supreme Court:

Lawyers, who have appeared before her, refer to Justice Arach Amoko as a no-nonsense judge. She served in the Attorney General's chambers from 1979 to 1997and rose from being a pupil state Attorney to Commissioner for Civil Litigation. She joined the bench in 1997 as a High Court Judge before being promoted to the court of Appeal in 2010.

While at the High Court, she headed the Civil and Commercial divisions besides serving at the East African Court of Justice. Lawyers say she has a deep understanding of legal decorum in court and correctly determines when lawyers are wasting her time. Her critics, however, believe she is more lenient to the female gender.

Justice Stephen Egonda Ntende, 57 - court of appeal:

He has been Chief Justice of the Republic of Seychelles since 2009. Before that, he served in the Court of Appeal and was briefly coopted to the Supreme court. He first served in private practice from 1982 to 1991 before he joined the bench as a High Court Judge in 1991.

During a stint at the High Court, he worked as a resident Judge of Masaka, head of the commercial and Civil divisions of the High court. His judgments were upheld including the famous case of Ostraco V Attorney General, where he construed the Government Proceedings Act by giving it a modification and adaptation to be in line with the 1995 Constitution.

The Ostraco judgment is an authority on judicial enforcement of the right to property ownership as provided under Article 26 of the Constitution. Besides, the judgment is also an emphasis that a prompt payment of fair and adequate compensation, has to be given to a private citizen for the loss of their property which has been taken by government in public interest.

Between 2000 and 2001, he was appointed as a judge of the Court of Appeal of East Timor, where he helped set up an independent judiciary. In his international posting as a judge in the United Nations Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), he gained extensive experience in dealing with matters of drug trafficking.

He was promoted to the Court of Appeal in early 2000 and during his time at the Constitutional court, he was known for his progressive judgments. One of these include the famous Gen David Tinyefuza V Attorney General case in which he joined the other judges in ruling that Tinyefuza had a right to leave the army.

Egonda also gave another progressive interpretation of the constitution when in the case of Salvatore Abuki and another V Attorney General, he defined the right to life to also mean that a denial of a source of livelihood can be inferred to mean violation of one's right to life.

He is regarded as a liberal judge who has respect for the rule of law and human rights. Actually, some have revealed that he is a good option for Chief Justice.

Justice Geoffrey Kiryabwire, 52 - Court of Appeal:

He has been a judge at the Commercial division of the High court. He joined the bench in early 2000. Before, he worked as General Manager/Chief Executive Officer (1999-2003) and Company Secretary (1993-1999).

Unlike the appointees above, Kiryabwire holds a postgraduate qualification. He enrolled as an advocate of the High court of Uganda in 1987 and holds a Master of Laws degree (with a bias in International Economic Law) from the University of London. He has been a member of three Commissions of Inquiry; the mismanagement of criminal cases, the collapse of three commercial banks and the junk helicopter purchase.

Advocates, who have appeared before him in the Commercial division, acknowledge that he has vast knowledge in commercial arbitration that should benefit the Court of Appeal. During his tenure as High Court Judge, he has made 58 judgments and he is credited for giving well-written and reasoned judgments. As one of the youngest nominees, he represents the future of the judiciary.

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