In a Press Statement released on July 2, 2013 and subsequent televised statements, the Uganda Law Society President Ruth Sebatindira and Secretary General Nicholas Opio have in the strongest terms urged the appointing authority and the Judicial Service Commission to move fast to fill the leadership vacuum by appointing a substantive Chief Justice, Deputy Chief Justice, Director of Public of Prosecutions, and the Deputy Director of Public Prosecutions to avert what has been termed as “state of near Constitutional crisis”.
To any reasonable person who subscribes to the rule of law, Justice and Constitutionalism, the points raised by Uganda Law Society are fundamental to our Constitution and to take them frivolously would amount to a grave error and I would want to believe that our good government will do the necessary sooner.
To have a shortage of Magistrates or State Attorneys or Prosecutors is one thing but to have all these top four positions in the Judiciary vacant is quite another. Leaving these key positions without substantive office holders does not only expose judiciary to an uncharted territory but also threatens the very core of the principle of rule of law and constitutionalism.
Judiciary finds itself in this state following the retirement of the distinguished Chief Justice of Uganda, The Hon Justice Benjamin Joseph Odoki and the recent appointments of the former Director of Public Prosecutions, Hon. Mr. Justice Richard Buteera and his former Deputy, Hon. Lady Justice Damalie Lwanga as Justice of Appeal and High Court respectively.
The Uganda Law Society raises key Constitutional issues which ought to be addressed.
First, the state occasioned by the recent appointment of the Acting Deputy Chief Justice, Hon. Mr. Justice Steven Kavuma as the Acting Chief Justice. The Law Society contends that this creates an awkward situation where you have the same person acting as a head of two appellate courts one of which is mandated to entertain appeals originating from the other.
Secondly, as if the criminal justice system is not currently experiencing enough problems, the office of the DPP is now crippled from performing specific duties as provided by the law. Functions such as withdrawal of charges can now not be easily performed.
One would wonder why these top positions are still vacant today knowing full well that the changes were anticipated and cannot be classified as vis major. Why wouldn’t we have a smooth transition in place to thwart such distasteful state of affairs?
I gather from the wires that the Judicial Service Commission has performed its constitutional duties in as far as the search for a new Chief Justice and the Deputy are concerned by identifying, recommending and forwarding a few names of fitting candidates to the appointing authority for possible appointment. No appointments have however been made yet.
One would safely deduce that we, as a country are yet to fully appreciate the fundamental role played by effective administration of justice when discussing about human rights, poverty eradication and social economic transformation in general.
There is an urgent need to make these substantive appointments as soon as possible and move to enhance administration of justice in the country by tabling the draft National Legal Aid Policy Bill before parliament among others.
Advancing Rule of Law, access to Justice, and good governance is critical for the SUSTAINABLE development of a NATION.