By John V Sserwaniko
Sometime last year, the Chief Justice Bart Katureebe publicly complained that in allowing her Commission of Inquiry officials to write a confidential dossier to the President accusing the Judiciary of sabotaging their work, Justice Catherine Bamugemereire (the inquiry chair) hadn’t acted in good taste. Katureebe implied the act amounted to stabbing colleagues in the back as opposed to reaching out to them first before referring the matter to the president. Bamugemereire, to whom many aggrieved Ugandans have resorted having been let down by the conventional judicial system, had previously complained of the some judicial officers undermining her Commission work. Some judicial officers too had expressed discomfort with her Commission entertaining petitions on matters already before them. Gratefully now it appears there is growing realization on both sides that tensions have to be deescalated and some middle ground found. Justice Remy Kasule, a Justice of Court of Appeal, last Friday appeared before the land Commission and had a cordial interaction with Bamugemereire and team. During his interface, the much revered Kasule (retiring soon from the bench on the account of age) proposed that Bamugemereire makes an effort to reach out to more judges and have similar interaction with the very top leadership of the Judiciary. Kasule said this would help deepen understanding for the two sides to appreciate each other better. Bamugemereire welcomed Kasule’s proposal saying it’s something she had already thought about and was looking forward to have the top judiciary leadership come before her Commission to share their experiences in adjudication of land wrangles which all unanimously agree are very rampant and yet complicated. Prompted by Commissioner Joyce Habasa, Bamugemereire reflected on a report in that day’s newspaper about a Judge’s court order staying the cancelation of 100s of titles erroneously issued regarding land which is in gazzetted wetlands. Habasa wondered why a judicial officer would undermine NEMA’s efforts and mandate to protect wetlands by issuing such an order. Riding on the openness with which Kasule addressed areas of potential conflict between the Commission and the judiciary leadership, Bamugemereire (who has always expressed anger at wetland encroachers) suggested that judicial officers be required to take Continuing Legal Education (CLE) more seriously by undertaking studies aimed at deepening their understanding on areas like environmental conservation so that in future they understand why NEMA would cancel so many titles as part of wetland preservation.
Bamugemereire, whose rapid rise and favor by the President is envied by some judiciary colleagues, said she would as a matter of priority ensure adequate time is created to sufficiently interact with the judiciary leadership and thanked Justice Kasule (her Court of Appeal colleague) for courageously bringing up the matter. She said that in fact to enrich her final recommendations and report-writing process when that time comes, she was going to interact with many interest groups (apart from the judiciary leadership) including the academia, women groups, bibanja owners and the landlords. Yet hatred towards her has to be understood beyond just the President’s well expressed public confidence in her works because even some of the eminent persons who have appeared before her have uttered stuff that could inadvertently amount to a vote of no confidence in the judicial system which naturally unsettles colleagues at the judiciary. Just last week, Kabaka’s younger brother David Wassajja, whose 15 year old land case has never been heard, commended her for readiness to urgently listen to grievances reported to her. Wassajja emotionally moved many in the audience when he narrated how the court system had frustrated him to the extent that a case (regarding ownership of the whole of Mutungo) he filed in 2003 has never been given a hearing date to be heard substantively. His adversary Dr. Mohammed Buwule Kasasa too thanked Bamugemereire for working towards delivering expeditious justice unlike the High Court which has taken so many years to hear such an important case. Elsewhere, eminent citizens (including retired judges) have called on government to find a way of ensuring that the Commission of Inquiry becomes a permanent institution to deescalate impunity with which the powerful act on matters to do with land. On listening to Wassajja and Kasasa narrative, some legal experts and judges have anonymously put the blame on lawyers who selfishly file endless applications which primarily aren’t very connected to the subject matter for which the parties filed the case in the first place-and Kasule says this is something the judiciary leadership can administratively address. Commissioner Robert Sebunya says the fact that the Commission has (through mediation) managed to reconcile parties and bring to an end litigation that had lasted for close to 40 years is proof there is a lot the Bamugemereire inquiry can do to help the mainstream judiciary overcome the problem of case backlog and inefficiency. For comments, call, text or whatsapp us on 0703164755.