Uganda: New Chief Justice vows to set up Court of Appeal regional centres

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Newly appointed Chief Justice Alfonse Owiny-Dollo addresses journalists at Parliament yesterday. PHOTO | ALEX ESAGALA 


Incoming Chief Justice Alfonse Owiny-Dollo has said top on his agenda will be the establishment of regional centres for the Court of Appeal so that appeal cases can be swiftly disposed of.

Justice Owiny-Dollo, who was last week appointed By President Museveni to replace Justice Bart Katureebe, set the target while speaking to journalists at Parliament after interfacing with the Appointments Committee yesterday.

Sources in the committee chaired by Speaker Rebecca Kadaga told Daily Monitor that Justice Owiny-Dollo and his deputy Richard Buteera sailed through easily without any “controversial moments.”

In what she called “a new format” of vetting presidential appointees, sources revealed that the Speaker put the committee members into two groups of six MPs, with only one person asking questions on behalf of each group.

Sources revealed that Bukonzo West MP Godfrey Atkins Katusabe was charged with interviewing and scoring the new Chief Justice while Jinja Municipality West MP Moses Balyeku led the interviewing of Justice Butera.

Justice Owiny-Dollo, whose main promise to the Appointments Committee was to ensure to bring down from two years the time for case backlogs, told journalists that his plan for regional Court of Appeal centres will depend on the President appointing more judges.

“If I had the necessary number of judges, even the Court of Appeal would sit in Mbale, Gulu, Mbarara and Fort Portal so that there are regional centres for the Court of Appeal. You lose your case in the High Court; you are in the Court of Appeal,” he said.

“For me the Court of Appeal needs a minimum of 30 justices. Now we have a minimum of 13 justices. So when you file your case in the Court of Appeal, it will be heard after four years; not that the justices are busy,” Justice Owiny-Dollo said.

Shortage of judges
He revealed that during his tenure, the Judiciary will have to study the growing population of the country which is projected at around 45m people so as to get a clear picture of how many judicial officers are needed to ensure there is no backlog.

He gave an example of Malaysia with a population of 30m people having 150 High Court judges with a case backlog of eight months compared to Uganda where the High Court has 60 judges with a backlog of two years.

Uganda, according to the incoming Chief Justice, has only about 300 magistrates at all levels, which makes it difficult for the 80 chief magisterial areas in the whole country to be covered by only 40 chief magistrates.

The former Deputy Chief Justice, who led the hearing of the presidential age limit case in Mbale and dismissed it, also gave his opinion on the age at which the judicial officers should retire.

In Uganda, the retirement age for the Chief Justice, justices of the Supreme Court and Court of Appeal is 70 whereas the judges of the High Court retire at 65. But Justice Owiny-Dollo said this provision benefits other countries.

“We retire our High Court Judges at 65 years and immediately we retire them, other countries pick them for the next five years plus. So what is the point of bringing up your best and then handing him or her over to another person?” he said.

“My personal view is that magistrates should retire at 65 years, judges from the High Court should retire at 70 years and appended judges should retire at 75. This is my personal view and I have justification for that,” he added.

On the independence of the Judiciary, the incoming CJ dismissed claims that political cases are always decided in favour of the government, saying he has himself decided cases in favour of the Opposition after being convinced with the evidence adduced.

Fighting corruption

Appointed during the time when two high profile judicial officers (Justices Moses Mukiibi and Wilson Musalu Musene) were sanctioned by the United States government for participating in an alleged fraudulent adoption scheme of Ugandan children, Justice Owiny-Dollo spoke tough against corruption.
He warned the members of the public to stop thinking that paying money to any judicial officer will influence the decisions of the court.

“For me, we must begin from the point that corruption is a cancer in this country. It is noticeable with the Judiciary because justice should never be for sale but tell me any institution where people are not crying against corruption. So please, corruption is not just in the Judiciary, it is a pandemic that we must all fight,” he said.

Source Daily Monitor.

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