The Chairman of the Judicial Service Commission Justice James Ogoola has revealed that the Supreme Court presently does not have the capacity to execute its mandate.
Ogoola told parliament’s committee on legal and parliamentary affairs that the Supreme Court does not have enough justices that constitute quorum to handle constitutional matters. He said that if any citizen appealed to the country’s highest court now, his or her case would not be heard something he says has resulted into a huge case backlog.
Out of the 11 Justices that constitute the Supreme Court, the court only has two full time judges and four in acting capacity, leaving a gap of five full time Judges.
Ogoola says however that the court is not as desperate as it used to be since it can now handle some matters but cannot do its substantive work of constitutional matters which needs a whole bench.
Bugweri County MP Abdu Katuntu described the situation of the Supreme Court as absurd saying that the Court last sat two and a half years ago. He said that it might take more than five years to clear the backlog of the appeals that the court has received in the last two and a half years.
Katuntu was further concerned that the few Judges that the court has now are earning free money because they are not doing any work.
The judiciary has for a long time grappled with the problem of lack of enough judges and the Judicial Service Commission, which is entrusted with the appointment of judges, says that most of the remaining work lies with the appointing authority for the Supreme Court.
Ogoola says that for high court Judges; the commission is still waiting for parliament to pass the resolution to appoint more judges to the court. The High Court has 50 judges but the commission had appealed to parliament to make it 100 for it to execute its duties more efficiently.
The legal and parliamentary affairs committee recommended 80 but the resolution is yet to be passed by parliament for the commission to appoint the remaining 30.
Ogoola says the constitutional Court/Court of Appeal only lacks its head- the Deputy Chief Justice and one other Justice.
This comes just days after the Uganda Law Society (ULS) wrote to the Speaker of Parliament warning against the re-appointment of Justice Benjamin Odoki as Chief Justice. Lawyers under ULS want Speaker Kadaga who chairs the Appointments Committee of Parliament not to approve Odoki’s return when he appears for vetting. Odoki, 70, retired in June this year after 35 years as a judge, 10 of those as Chief Justice.
This could complicate the situation the country’s highest court.