The Chief Justice of Uganda, Owiny-Dollo has reassured judicial officers of the country that they will not be intimidated under his watch, promising to defend them and speak out against interferences with their judicial work.
Justice Owiny–Dollo was speaking at the opening of the annual judges and magistrates conference yesterday, 28th November, 2022 at Mestil Hotel and Residences in Nsambya, Kampala.
“Don’t be intimidated by whoever comes to your court and wants you to do something contrary to your judicial oath. We took oath never to revenge or do ill will. However, the Judiciary will not be intimidated under my watch” Owiny-Dollo said.
The Chief Justice was referring to an incident that happened last week involving the Prime Minister of Uganda, Hon. Robinah Nabbanja and Magistrate Amon Mugezi of Mengo Chief Magistrates’ Court, where the premier reportedly grilled the magistrate on live television citing “loop holes” in the way a case was handled after the latter made a ruling that would have seen a widowed woman lose her residential property over a loan.
Prime Minister Robinah Nabbanja intervened, bailing out the woman by paying her lender.
“I have paid the money to release the woman, there are a lot of loopholes in this case which the court needs to fix” PM Robinah Nabbanja said, according to Monitor.
Describing the incident as “unfortunate, unacceptable and total outrage,” Chief Justice Owiny-Dollo said he would be failing in his duty if he failed to defend “my judicial officers and keep quiet.”
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“What happened last week at Mengo Chief Magistrate’s Court was unfortunate and unacceptable. I will be failing in my duty as head of the Judiciary if I failed to defend my Judicial Officers and keep quiet” the Chief Justice said, adding:
“I commend the Prime Minister for her zeal only that in this case it was misplaced. There other many priorities that she should have focused on.”
Under the laws of Uganda, a ruling by a magistrate or a Judge can only be set aside by a higher court after an appeal process. And execution of court orders can be temporarily stopped pending the determination of such appellate processes.
However, Uganda’s court processes are typically slow and tend to drag on for long periods of time. Legal services in Uganda are also typically expensive and therefore unaffordable to the indigent.
In response to the Prime Minister’s query, Magistrate Amon Mugezi said last week, according to Monitor, that the widow had not attended court to elaborate better on her case. The Chief Justice reechoed this stance.
“Madam prime minister those are the facts we tell people to bring to court such as the evidence that the land is not for Nalule (widow). So, if someone does not come to court, we deal with what is on the file, that is the law, we presume that they do not want to defend themselves” Magistrate Amon Mugezi said.
It should be noted that Prime Minister Robinah Nabbanja is not the first official within the executive arm of government to be caught in the cross hairs of alleged disrespect of the Judiciary.
In legal punditry, President Yoweri Museveni has consistently been accused of undermining the independence of Judges.
For example, the President has questioned the granting of bail to murder suspects – calling it a “provocation.”
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The Constitution guarantees the independence of the judiciary which means judges should be able to adjudicate over matters before them relying on the law, the evidence and without any form of external influences.
Chief Justice Owiny-Dollo also cautioned unscrupulous judicial officers, noting he will see “their backs” [read exit].
“We need to be Judiciary born again as we exercise our mandate. Let us rededicate ourselves as we serve our people.” Owiny-Dollo said.
“If you behave in a manner unbecoming of a Judicial Officer I will certainly see your back (exit) and that is non-negotiable” the Chief Justice added.
Benjamin is a Legal writer and digital media enthusiast who founded The Legal Reports website in January, 2020 while a fourth year law student at Makerere University school of law.
Prior to that, Benjamin used to write amateur blogs and some of his legal commentaries were published by the Daily Monitor and Independent Magazine – both leading publications in Uganda. He covers lawyers, law students, judges, judiciary, courts, law schools, and law firms.