By Mulengera Reporters
President Yoweri Museveni has already bought into the plan Judicial Service Commission (JSC) has in place to ensure the transition from outgoing Chief Justice Bart Katurebe to the new CJ is as smooth as possible. Katurebe, who has been CJ since 2015, will be easing out mid next year on the account of age-having clocked 70.
Unlike the ambiguity and very embarrassing public debate that characterized his predecessor Benjamin Odoki (who some perceived as trying to cling on prompting MP Gerald Karuhanga to petition Court), Katurebe has repeatedly said he is in for a dignified exit and this true to his character as a very decent person. That aside, under Justice Benjamin Kabito’s reformist leadership, the JSC (that among other things recruits judges) has been very categorical in impressing on the President the need to let aged judicial officers go to create room for the younger ones to vertically grow their careers. This simply means even if he was to turn on his word and try clinging on, it wouldn’t be easy for the incumbent CJ to get his way.
He was initially dismissed as a cadre chairperson but Benjamin Kabito has unexpectedly turned out to be a very assertive JSC Chairman that even President Museveni respects. As such, the JSC top team has already had communication with the President selling to him their plan on how they want to ensure maximum efficiency and transparency in the way Katureebe’s successor is arrived at.
In one of their recent engagements, State House sources say, the JSC team informed the President they want to ensure by February 2020 the country knows who their next CJ is going to be. And this will be 6 months before Katurebe finally leaves implying by the time the new CJ takes office and begins work, the country will have had the opportunity to have known him 6 months prior. That’s is a lot of improvement compared to Kabito’s predecessor Justice James Ogoola’s JSC that would keep the country in suspense.
The CJ recruitment process, whose advert will be going out soon, will be open and career judges already on the bench will have 75% chance to produce the next CJ and the remaining 25% will comprise of an opening for seasoned legal brains in both the private legal practice and the academia. The same criterion, Museveni has accepted, will be followed when recruiting other members of the bench at all levels-High Court, Court of Appeal and Supreme Court.
To their credit, the JSC bosses have suggested (and the President has agreed) that Supreme Court and Court of Appeal be numerically enlarged so that 21 Justices comprise the Court of Appeal while the Supreme Court is enlarged to 19 Justices. This is meant to diminish case backlog which currently stands in thousands of cases in both Courts.
The 75% vs. 25% sharing of the slots in both Courts is meant to ensure the Ogoola-era anomaly of finding there are no justices to hear certain appeals at both Supreme and Court of Appeal (simply because they relate to cases they handled before their elevation) doesn’t arise.
It happened during Ogoola’s time as JSC Chairman when certain appeals couldn’t be handled at all because all Justices available had somehow been involved with those same cases at lower bench levels preceding their elevation. And in the Kabito-era JSC wisdom, the 25% of the bench members recruited from the private legal practice and academia will ensure such scenario doesn’t happen again.
Gratefully, it’s easier today to attract such people (outsiders) because the JSC leadership and the entire Judiciary (prudently backed by their very assertive line Minister Gen Kahinda Otafiire) have successfully persuaded the President to endorse enhancement of judicial officers’ remuneration. This has greatly contributed to making the hitherto-lean bench more attractive to even seasoned private practice lawyers that always shunned judicial officer jobs which they often equated to doing a thankless job. (For comments, call, text or whatsapp us on 0703164755 or email us at email@example.com).