25 August 2017

Uganda: Who Is New Deputy Chief Justice Owiny-Dollo?


Unless he fails to beat the last hurdle, which is the much needed parliamentary approval, Justice Alfonse Chigamoy Owiny-Dollo is on course to become Uganda's deputy Chief Justice.

Owiny-Dollo will replace the controversial Justice Steven Kavuma, who retires next month having clocked the mandatory retirement age of 70.

Of the three judges that made the final list of nominees to replace Kavuma as deputy Chief Justice, Owiny-Dollo was the most junior.

During the search process, which took months, Justice Owiny-Dollo faced stiff competition from Justice Frederick Egonda-Ntende, a former chief justice of Seychelles, who is now at the Court of Appeal and Prof Lillian Tibatemwa-Ekirikubinza, a Supreme Court judge.

But on Tuesday night President Museveni, in exercising powers vested in him by article 142 (1) of the constitution and acting on the advice of the Judicial Service Commission (JSC), appointed Owiny-Dollo as deputy Chief Justice. Owiny-Dollo now awaits parliamentary approval.

In the same communication, Museveni promoted Justice Owiny-Dollo's colleagues, Justices Richard Buteera and Paul Mugamba, to the Supreme Court.

Justice Owiny-Dollo takes over the helms of the Court of Appeal, which also doubles as the Constitutional court at a time when the court's image has been soiled by Justice Kavuma's unilateral issuance of controversial interim orders, which have since angered judges.


As Owiny-Dollo takes over the court, he will have to confront a huge case backlog. The national court census of 2016 found that the Court of Appeal and the Constitutional court combined have a total of 5,836 pending cases, accounting for 5 per cent of the pending cases (114,809) in the entire Judiciary.

Nevertheless, many legal experts believe that Owiny-Dollo, who has a bachelor's degree of law (Makerere University), Masters of Arts Degree in conflict Resolution from Bradford University, and a certificate in advanced mediation skills from the Center for Conflict Resolution, Cape Town, will rise to the occasion.

"Like I have said before, Owiny-Dollo is a judge with what we term as judicial temper," Julius Galisonga, a city advocate said, adding, "He doesn't quarrel with lawyers, he just guides and that's what we need in the judiciary."

Interviewed yesterday, Ben Wacha, the former Oyam North legislator, who together with Justice Owiny- Dollo was in the Constituent Assembly (CA) and the sixth parliament, described the judge as principled. He said Owiny-Dollo "understands the law."

"If his work isn't interfered with by outsiders, I'm confident he will do a good job," Wacha, a seasoned lawyer said. "During our days in parliament, he did a good job. Even in the judiciary, he has done a good job."

But dealing with conflict situations, as the case is at the Court of Appeal, is not alien to Owiny-Dollo who represented Ogago County both in the CA and sixth parliament.

In 2006, he had a face-to-face meeting with LRA rebel leader Joseph Kony in Garamba forest in the DR Congo. During the meeting, he advised the warlord on the imperatives of pursuing a negotiated settlement to the armed conflict in Northern Uganda.

Owiny-Dollo's mediating skills where further tested between 2007-2008 when he was the legal counsel to Riek Machar (then vice president South Sudan) who was the chief mediator in the Juba peace talks between the Ugandan government and the LRA rebels.

During the talks, the judge was tasked to recommend a transitional justice process suitable for the post-conflict Northern Uganda, a process that led to the establishment of the High court International Crimes Division (ICD) in Uganda.

The court, which follows the template of the International Criminal Court (ICC) was set up to try perpetrators of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide including commanders of the Joseph Kony-led LRA and other rebel groups.

Justice Owiny-Dollo's experience in settling conflicts through mediation started in 1988 when he was appointed as legal counsel in the peace talks between then rebel outfit, Uganda People's Democratic Movement (UPDM), and government.

As legal counsel, he drafted the document that was executed as the historic peace agreement between government and UPDM at Pece Stadium, Gulu on June 3, 1988.

Born on January 18, 1956 Justice Owiny- Dollo's judicial journey commenced in 2008 when he was appointed as a judge of the High court.

In his seven year tenure as a High court judge, he has served as resident judge of the High court in Fort Portal; he headed the Execution and Bailiffs division of the High court and also had a stint at the International Crimes Division (ICD) of the High court.

After seven years at the High court, in 2015, Owiny-Dollo, was promoted to the Court of appeal. However, he couldn't take his seat at the court immediately because he was still tied up at the High court criminal division hearing a terrorism case in which 13 men were accused of killing 76 people in twin bombings in Kampala.


Though he has tried to exhibit his independence as a judge, his critics say he has too many ties with the ruling NRM regime to be independent.

They say those ties could handicap him, just as was the case with Kavuma, who served as minister for finance and defence before he was appointed as Court of Appeal judge.

In respect to Owiny-Dollo, critics cite his 1996 appointment as minister of state in charge of Northern Uganda Reconstruction Programme (NURP).

In 2006, two years before he was appointed as a judge, Owiny-Dollo was a member of President Museveni's defence team when his election was challenged by Dr Kizza Besigye in the Supreme Court.

Though he has a history with government, in his rulings, Owiny-Dollo showed no hesitation in ruling against NRM interests.

For instance, in 2011 while sitting in the Masaka High court, Owiny Dollo nullified the election of NRM's Muhammad Muyanja Mbabaali for forging academic documents. The petition had been filed by DP's Mathias Nsubuga, who has since passed on. Muyanja and Nsubuga battled for the Bukoto South seat.

In 2016, then junior lands minister Aidah Nantaba's salary was attached by the High court following a judgment by Owiny-Dollo.

Nantaba's salary was attached after she had failed to pay costs worth about Shs 23.7 million to one Abby Kasoro Kiberu.

Interviewed yesterday, seasoned lawyer Peter Walubiri said there are no questions marks about Owiny-Dollo's abilities as a judge and an administrator. However, he warned that Owiny-Dollo is going to work in the same environment as Kavuma did.

"Can he withstand the pressure and go against the powers that be? Can he rise above the clouds like an eagle?" Walubiri asked, adding that though he doesn't expect miracles from Owiny-Dollo, he thinks he won't "sink too low."

"I don't expect him to change the judiciary but at least he will get the basics right," Walubiri said.


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