Following the recent 60-days ultimatum issued by members of the Uganda Law Society (ULS) to President Museveni to appoint a substantive Chief Justice (CJ) or lay down their tools, the President has met the top ULS members to forge a way forward.
In the meeting held on Monday this week at State House Entebbe, the President said he can’t do much in as far as appoint a new substantive Chief Justice until the pending Constitutional Court case challenging the re-appointment of retired Chief Justice Benjamin Odoki back to the same position is determined.
The President was quoted to have promised to accept the outcome of the pending Constitutional Court case that is challenging his move to re-appoint Mr Odoki as a substantive CJ on two-year contract.
According to president ULS Ms Ruth Sebatindira, Mr Museveni in the meantime agreed to their proposal to immediately appoint a substantive Deputy Chief Justice (DCJ) who would ease the judiciary’s top leadership crisis by automatically being the CJ as the country awaits the fate of the court case on Odoki.
“We proposed and the President agreed that, appointing a DCJ would in the meantime remove the current unconstitutionality as the court decision is awaited.” said Ms Sebatindira in her statement.
Ms Sebatindira added: “we felt that the focus on the CJ office and the contestation of interpretations around that issue had somehow relegated the DCJ appointment to the background. Our suggestion to immediately appoint a DCJ was very positively received.”
She also said during their meeting with the President, they resurrected the controversial appointment of High Court Judge Anup Choudry Singh to the Bench with the President saying he is frustrated by the existence of a stay of execution order following Judge Choudry’s appeal to the Court of Appeal and until that is resolved; he could not do much about it.
On Thursday this week, while meeting lawmakers on the House Committee on Legal and Parliamentary Affairs, Judicial Service Commission chairman Justice James Ogoola described Justice Steven Kavuma who has since held the two top judiciary positions in acting capacity as “somebody” in the office.
He added and said the Constitution does not provide for the position of ‘acting CJ’ and that the only immediate solution was for the President to appoint a substantive DCJ who will step in a CJ.
The country has for the past one year not had a substantive Chief Justice and deputy following the retirement of Odoki in March last year when he clocked the retirement age of 70 years and also the retirement of Alice Mpagi Bahegeine about two years ago respectively.
But President Museveni in a July 9, 2013 letter addressed to the chairman of the JSC, directed that Mr Odoki be given a two year contract in order to maximise the services of our human resource.
The President also directed that other three retired Supreme Court justices; John Wilson Tsekooko, Christine Kitumba and Gildino Okello; be recalled to the Bench and indeed they have reported for duty.
But Odoki’s re-appointment has been met with resistance on grounds that he has clocked the retirement age and the constitution does not provide for that.
Its upon this backdrop that Western Youth MP Gerald Karuhanga went to the Constitutional Court last year, challenging President Museveni’s move to re-appoint retired Chief Justice Odoki as CJ as being unconstitutional.
The law maker also argues that the constitution does not provide for the re-appointment of a retired Chief Justice to the post of a substantive Chief Justice of Uganda.
He further accuses the President of not following the recommendations of the JSC that forwarded the name of Supreme Court Justice Bart Katureebe as the suitable candidate to replace Justice Odoki but the President instead re-appointed him, a move he says is unconstitutional.
The matter is still pending at the Constitutional Court following the appeal made by MP Karuhanga to the Supreme Court early this year in which he is seeking to have Justices Kavuma and Augustine Nshimye off the five-member panel that is hearing Odoki case over alleged bias.