By John V Sserwaniko
According to the latest communication by Speaker Rebecca Kadaga, Wednesday February 14th and Thursday 15th have been designated as days on which the 14 Presidential nominees for the High Court and Court of Appeal positions will be vetted and considered. This vetting is the mandate of the Appointments Committee of Parliament which Kadaga chairs. In this news article we at Mulengera news website reflect on the 14 nominees focusing on their strong and weak points. What makes them suitable or unsuitable? Our assessment is based on (record and off record) interactions we had with eminent citizens, law scholars, their peers and lawyers who have interacted with them in the course of executing their duties. Some like prominent city lawyer Peter Walubiri even taught some of these new judges at the Makerere law school. And we analyze each one of them in the following article:
THE DETAILS ON EACH
Christopher Madrama (56):
The guys we spoke to were unanimous that his elevation from High Court to Court of Appeal was timely and well merited. Whereas Walubiri sounded nostalgic while reflecting on “his excellent, coherent & well reasoned judgments mostly in the commercial court,” Hassan Kamba another influential lawyer and lecturer at LDC christened Justice Madrama “the Lord Denning of Uganda.” Now for starters, Lord Denning was an English judge who propounded many legal principles through his precedence-setting decisions. He mostly reigned and decided cases during the 1970s through to the 1990s and consensus in the UK was that he was “the greatest judge of the century.”Another equally excited lawyer agreed with Walubiri and Kamba and described Madrama “as the very best, the finest of the 14 of the newly appointed Justices.” Madrama’s appointment portrays President Museveni as one who considers merit but also (and most importantly) it achieves regional balancing by increasing visibility of the West Nilers in the very echelons of government. This is good for the political dividend Museveni must reap from every major appointment he makes.
Stephen Musota (59):
At the law school and even for the lawyers on the bar, Justice Musoota’s judgments are some of the very best to read. He writes with a lot of clarity and makes observations that are hard for any law student to forget. He propounds principles of law in a manner that can easily be recited and remembered. He is scandal-free and despises mediocrity. Having previously held big positions like Chief Registrar, it was only natural that he gets posted in the Court of Appeal for his experience and love for the people to be harnessed at that level. The only reservation is that he has previously manifested traits of ill health though one of the city lawyers we anonymously talked to downplayed such fears by saying: “There is nothing unique about him being frail unless one doesn’t know the state of many our judges’ health. Let me tell you those guys sit a lot and any of them who does that routine work for more than 10 years will naturally get complications. They naturally can’t be healthy given their work schedule and sitting for long hours.”
Percy Night Tuhaise (59):
She formerly worked at Law Development Center (LDC) where she did administrative work, lectured and deputized Director Elijah Wante. A group of lecturers then led by Micheal Akampulira and Nestar Byamugisha fought Wante and put him in disarray and Tuhaise remained the only sober-minded figure in the top management as the rebel lecturers impeached the character of all the other op bosses. Tuhaise was also the one charged with speaking and safeguarding the LDC’s image amidst that entire storm. There was also the issue of guys who wanted to grab LDC land in Naguru and still it was Tuhaise who stood up to them. On being appointed judge of the High Court, her prudent wise ruling onetime saved Makerere land in Katanga against the very determined land grabbers who had already succeeded in blackmailing and subduing then VC Prof Baryamureeba. The land-grabbing mafia even issued threats against her life but Tuhaise stood firm. As Head Family Division initially located at Crusader House, Tuhaise superintended over other very illustrious female judges namely Alexandria Nkonge Rugadya and the famous Catherine Bamugemereire. She is remembered for firmly standing up for the rights of the intern law students from Ugandan Universities who were being squeezed and denied space and training opportunities in favor of foreign students from Pepperdine University in America. She insisted the interns’ office had to be shared by both US and Ugandan students who the registrar Atukwasa was treating indifferently. Speaking anonymously, the lawyers we spoke to said her elevation to Court of Appeal was well merited given her impeccable integrity, hard work, swiftness never sitting on judgments and level-headedness. One lawyer also believed regional balancing and the gender ticket could have further bolstered her chances. She is a Mutooro and since the dropping of ISO boss Ronnie Barya, the subjects of King Oyo have been grumbling saying they have been sidelined from the eating table. In Tooro kingdom she was actually a minister until she quit on becoming a judge.
Ezekiel Muhanguzi (66):
The lawyers we spoke to were unanimous in regarding him with contempt and two of them maintained that, having retired years back from the bench as High Court judge having clocked 65 years, the best thing would be leaving this Uganda Bible Society President to rest. “You have over 30 judges in the High Court many of whom are better than him in terms of being energetic or brilliant. If you wanted any of those attributes and much more there are other guys that would have been considered,” said a lawyer obviously on condition of anonymity so as to freely give her views on the matter. He once served as resident High Court Judge Mbale and a few years ago, he controversially ruled against sitting tenants on the Osukuru land in Tororo district where the Chinese company Dong Song wanted to put the $600m phosphates plant. Muhanguzi ruled that it was okay for the sitting tenants to leave the land and get compensation later. He was widely criticized by the legal fraternity for this decision but those pleased by the decision said this was proof Muhanguzi was pro-investment. He previously headed the Executions Division of the High Court (which handles bailiffs etc) and also once chaired the President’s Commission of Inquiry into UPE.
Jane Francis Adobo:
She is an Acholi and said to be very brilliant and has a PhD, making her the most formally educated of the 14 new judges Museveni has appointed. She has previously worked in the Directorate of Public Prosecution (DPP) where she moved mountains because of her hard work, integrity and timeliness. Peers at DPP described her as “one of the very best when it comes to prosecuting white collar and cyber crimes.” She also holds an LLM from Trinity College Dublin (2016) and was in 2015 recognized by the Uganda Law Society as the best prosecutor of the year having secured the highest number of convictions in her cases. For close to 10 years she has headed prosecution arm of the Anti-Corruption Court and has exhibited lots of integrity at work. She started as a pupil state attorney before moving to senior state attorney, principal then attorney principal and now to senior assistant DPP. She comes from a very large extended family with close to 70 direct siblings. She is also a team player and the moment she applied, those who knew her argued she was going to get the job because of her brilliance and rich CV. In fact some lawyers speculated she could have been the best in those interviews by JSC besides others like Ester Nambayo.
None of the lawyers we spoke to was willing to discuss this High Court nominee on record largely because they have little knowledge about her. Until March 2017, she famously headed PPDA coming in immediately after long serving ED Edgar Agaba. Because of the scandal-free reign she had at PPDA whereby her integrity was never impeached despite all the temptations that come with heading such an influential government Procurement Authority, many lawyers concluded that this very prayerful lady must be thick on integrity. She never had fights with staff and her board which is proof of her team player skills. Since leaving PPDA, she has been into private practice naturally leveraging on the good contacts she made while at PPDA. She holds a post-graduate diploma in public procurement management from ILO Turin in Italy. Prior to that, she served as a legal adviser to the PPDA. One lawyer said the fact that she departed without attempting to manipulate things to stay on, is indicative she respects rules. But coming from such a background of heading a government agency, some lawyers feared she might need time mastering the very critical procedural things before perfecting her work as a judge.
Paul Gadenya (49):
This blue eyed boy of the Chief Justice Bart Katureebe has been serving as Chief Registrar Courts of Judicature which is a position of great power and influence because he aids the accounting officer Kagole Kivumbi in managing the technical aspects including the transfers and re-deployment of Judicial Officers. He previously worked in JLOS (resident in Justice Ministry) as their Technical Advisor. He has thickly been involved in the ongoing judiciary reforms that got underway the moment Katureebe became CJ. Over time a practice has been established that whoever serves as Chief Registrar become a Judge and a very good one at that. Examples include Musota, Lawrence Gidudu (now of Anti-Corruption Court) and Adonyo. Gadenya, who one seasoned lawyer described as one who is “brilliant, organized, pro-people and beyond reproach,” has been CR since 2016. The lawyers we spoke to were unanimous that he exceedingly passes the integrity test and looked forward to appear before him as a judge expecting nothing but the best experience. Some believed his country would benefit more from him if he stayed as CR longer and oversee full implementation of some of the reforms Katureebe kick-started closely working with him as his CR. Now for uninitiated the CR must ideally closely work with his CJ and this made Gadenya the officer Katureebe would ring most times per day. He is his ear on many things regarding the running of the institution as PS Kagole Kivumbi concentrates on the non technical stuff basically the support environment. Some feminists argued that Gadenya’s departure is now an opportunity for a lady from amongst the judicial officers to become Chief Registrar. Gadenya is also reputed for the humility with which he approaches things. He likes people and is easily available to anyone high and low.
He has been serving his 2nd term as Corporation Secretary at NSSF having previously held the same position at BAT and Uganda Breweries Ltd where his performance was described as not very inspiring. Sources associated his departure from BAT on two major cases the company controversially lost and subsequently paid colossal sums of money in damages. At NSSF, he is famously remembered for being convicted by Court a contemnor after former DMD Geraldine Ssali Busulwa successfully sued him in contempt of court proceedings. This is how it happened: The much condemned Wabwire, who was holding Forte in absence of MD Richard Byarugaba, ordered the security guards to deny her access back to office despite the court order she carried and served onto him directing her return to office. Ssali’s lawyers ran back to court and had Wabwire declared a contemnor. There was uproar amongst Law Society members that a corporate lawyer expected to be so senior would act with so much impunity and some Uganda Law Society members wanted him sanctioned for the unbecoming conduct he exhibited. As a result of his ineptness and failure to advise the Board Chairman correctly, the Fund lost some hundreds of millions indemnifying Ssali. It’s understood he responded to the JSC adverts and sat interviews to become a judge because he wasn’t sure of being retained as CS for NSSF. And now that he has the job, he may consider declining the offer because his recently enhanced salary at NSSF is way above the Shs10m a judge monthly takes home. It’s alleged Wabwire won NSSF board chairman Patrick Kaberenge’s favor because he was always courteous to him ever allowing him to chill on the round table in his office where he regularly sits and eats lunch from since the NSSF property manager refused to allocate him an office on grounds he isn’t an executive chairman permitted to sit in the building.
Joyce Kavuma (44):
She isn’t in anyway related to the famous Justice Steven Kavuma (now retired). She was once deployed as Magistrate in Makindye, later became Chief Magistrate and Registrar Family Division. Lawyers who have interfaced with her said “she is pro-people, prudent at work and delivers well reasoned judicial decisions.” It was also revealed that, having been strongly recommended by Justice Ester Kisakye-led Association of Female Judges, Joyce Kavuma had to get the job in order for Museveni to appear to be gender sensitive and lawyers look forward to productively appearing before her. However, her elevation just like that of Emmanuel Baguma has sparked discontent among some judicial officers who are already grumbling feeling they were more suitable. There are especially those who feel are more senior and have been registrars for longer period than her and Baguma. Lawyers feared such registrars may in the coming days frustrate work as they quietly demonstrate their discontent.
Olive Kazaarwe Mukwaya:
She has currently been the Secretary for the Land Commission of inquiry along with Dr. Douglas Singiza. More substantively, Kazaarwe has been working with the DANIDA project in the Judiciary and observers say she has been condemned to the Katebe (without any serious judicial deployment and people she was senior to bypassed her) for all these years because State House was uncomfortable with the way she independently ruled on some sensitive criminal cases involving big name opposition politicians during her days at Buganda Road. “She ruled correctly as required by law but the powers that be considered her handling of judicial duties to be politically incorrect,” said a senior lawyer who has watched Kazaarwe professionally grow. Lawyers unanimously considered her a good pick for the High Court slot because she is widely read, knows the law and procedure and has accumulated the sufficient experience. She was at Makerere in the 1990s and Walubiri taught her at the Law School just like Emmanuel Baguma, Alex Ajiji and Tadeo Asiimwe. The only fear some lawyers had about Kazaarwe (an external examiner at LDC) is that, having served mostly in Magistrate courts where most of the matters are criminal, she may take some time acquainting herself on procedure regarding civil matters which are very prevalent in the High Court.
Many of the sources we spoke to agreed that he is suitable regarding his integrity and experience but they were at the same time unanimous that he was considered largely to portray the list as representative of Muslim interests as well. However, Hassan Kamba sharply disagreed defending the celebrated law books author in the following words: “To say he is there because is a Muslim is to really be very unfair to Musa Sekana. To me he is one of the best on that list because he is brilliant and has been at the LDC for such a long time and if a senior lecturer at LDC isn’t suitable, then who is?” Kamba said he was optimistic that with his vast experience as a lecturer and member of the Bar, Sekaana is going to move mountains at the bench. Kamba, who personally has been declining offers to become a High Court judge, also insisted that whereas Sekana’s posting is good news, Muslims still remain inadequately represented in the recruitment of judicial officers. He hoped the anomaly will gradually be addressed. Remarkably, Sekana is also the only practicing advocate on that list of 14 judges.
Alex Ajiji (58):
He has previously served as Chief Magistrate Mbarara and has been elevated to High Court judge barely after two years of serving as a somewhat controversial registrar. Whereas majority lawyers agreed he exceedingly passes the integrity test, qualifications and experience, critics say there are many other more senior registrars who applied and should have been considered ahead of new comers like Ajiji. One lawyer predicted the disappointed registrars will become less hard working “as a result of this betrayal by both the JSC and the appointing authority.”
Tadeo Asiimwe (48):
This MBA-holding officer started out as State Attorney and came from DPP to join the Judiciary where he has served as registrar and Inspector of Courts. He was until recently serving as the registrar Court of Appeal until when new Deputy Chief Justice (also head Court of Appeal) Owiny Dollo objected to retaining him there after being misleadingly told by longer serving Appeal Justices that he was his predecessor Steven Kavuma’s blue eyed boy. This High Court judge posting has come at a time when Asiimwe had barely effectively started work in his new registrar posting. He was still coming to terms with the shock resulting from Owiny Dollo’s unexpected suspicious attitude towards him.
He has previously served as Chief Magistrate and registrar Criminal Division of the High Court. He also once served as Ag Chief Registrar. His hard work and high integrity levels notwithstanding, Baguma’s appointment has been disputed on grounds that more senior colleagues like Ester Nambayo would have been more suitable for the High Court posting. “She [Nambayo] is well suited, applied and did very well at the interviews. Actually she was among the best but now see she hasn’t been given. This really demoralizes judicial officers especially given the fact that she was among those the Association of female judges strongly recommended to become High Court judges,” furiously said a female judge who declined being named fearing reprisals from colleagues.
WILL THIS ELIMINATE BACKLOG?
In separate phone interviews with Mulengera news website, Walubiri and Kamba on record addressed the issue of whether the posting of the 14 new Justices will resolve backlog of cases remaining undisposed for many years. They both disagreed with Kamba arguing: “Nothing would be further from the truth because in the 1990s we had fewer judges than even today yet there was nothing like backlog compared to the levels it has escalated today.” Walubiri said mere posting of new judges can’t eliminate backlog “because some judges aren’t competent when it comes to correctly appreciating procedure and legal principles.” He added: “There is a problem of poor work ethic eating up both the Judges and some of us at the bar. It’s a problem of both the public and private sector.” To explain attitude, Senior Counsel Walubiri spoke about adjournments being granted so regularly these days and thereby prolonging the lifespan of cases that would ordinarily have been disposed of quickly.”It’s really a Ugandan problem not just the judges. Of course I know they are many judges who have a good attitude towards work but a significant number not at all.
A judge will list 10 cases and when that day comes, the same judge will call all the lawyers to his chambers and say can I start with those who won’t be ready to proceed? That is wrong because adjournments should be the exception. I’m really nostalgic about the days of the Wambuzis, the Arthur Oders when Counsel had to really show compelling reasons to be granted adjournment. Even we the lawyers haven’t helped matters. We come to court unprepared and ask for unnecessary adjournments and thereby discrediting even those who may genuinely ask for adjournment. Now as long as you don’t address such attitude problems, you won’t overcome backlog even if you recruit 80 High Court judges,” says Walubiri who has practiced and taught law for decades. He also proposes that the Rules of Procedure need to be revised to suit contemporary times “because many of them are clearly archaic and contribute to backlog.” Gratefully for the likes of Walubiri, this is a matter CJ Katureebe is addressing whereby a committee he recently set up has come up with a range of proposals highlighting areas that need amendment. For example Walubiri says to save time, submissions in all appellate cases should compulsorily be in written form to avoid lawyers making long endless submissions.
Walubiri also decries the culture of all Ugandans, not just judges, craving for seminars and trips abroad “even those that are peripheral to one’s work.” He also proposes a strong cracking of the whip on judges who “sometimes come to work as late as mid day” arguing that even if you have a 1000 judges, backlog will stay with such poor time management. He also says the Judiciary leadership should think and act very innovatively giving the example of Mukono High Court whose backlog now stands at 3,000 cases. Walubiri says even if you stopped filing of any new cases, the three judges there will need a minimum of three years to finish that backlog. “But here is what can work: let’s review all the backlog cases and you will find many of them should simply not be there. You just put them off because they have clearly been overtaken by events. I will give you my own example. There is a case we filed in the Constitutional Court seeking an injunction to stop the 2011 elections.
Ofcourse they sat on it. It was never attended to but today it’s also part of the backlog but why? There are many such cases which should be scrutinized and scrapped from the backlog because they are clearly overtaken by events and even us who filed it are clearly not interested in it anymore because it doesn’t serve any purpose,” Walubiri explains. He also rejects Kamba’s proposal for judges to be paid some additional incentive basing on the number of cases disposed of. “That is really defective and it can’t work without creating more problems and leaving many more litigants aggrieved. In order to earn the money, judges will lock out some witnesses and the evidence, overlook certain very important things and even refuse to grant genuine adjournments and at the end of the day no justice will be served,” Walubiri asserts.
He also doesn’t agree that judges aren’t well paid. “I recently spoke to some judges and I told them look here you keep envying lawyers in private practice but the truth is not many of us out there can continuously earn Shs10m per month after taxes. It’s rare given the shape the economy is in and let me tell you if the pay is that poor, why would registrars clamor to be appointed High Court judges when they can easily be employed in KCCA or even UNRA if not leading very successful lives in private practice because by that time they have connections and know the system very well?” Walubiri was also reluctant to agree with our view that credit goes to Justice Benjamin Kabiito, the hitherto despised chairman of JSC for expeditiously conducting the recruitment exercises and for having the guts to lock out the likes of Justice Steven Kavuma.
We also focused Walubiri on the fact that it takes firm strong leadership to resist recruitment of strong NRM cadres like ex-IGG Raphael Baku when they apply for judiciary positions and our assertion was that all this is credit to Justice Kabiito. Walubiri dismissed this as “not being entirely true because the JSC’ rejection of Steven Kavuma and disgraced cadres like Baku has more to do with the increased public pressure and scrutiny than anything else; those guys fear the public backlash if they mess up the recruitment and recruit people the public thinks are unsuitable.” To comment on this and other Mulengera news stories, reach us on 0703164755.