Acting Chief Justice Steven Kavuma has today down-played the none appearance of private lawyers under their umbrella association Uganda Law Society (ULS) at the opening of the Judiciary’s New Law year for 2015.
Justice Kavuma said as long as the head of the Bar who is the attorney General Peter Nyombi was present at the function, it was inconsequential for other lawyers to attend.
The tough talking Kavuma was responding to questions put to him by journalist on the judiciary’s reaction to lawyers in private practice shunning their function over continued lack of substantial Chief Justice.
The lawyers who decided not to appear at the High Court premises, were showing solidarity with their president Ruth Sebatindira; who had on Wednesday this week urged them to shun the function in protest against President Museveni’s continued refusal to appoint a substantive Chief Justice and Deputy for the past almost two years.
Ms Sebatindira said that attending the function for the second year running without a substantive CJ and deputy; would be sanctioning and lending support to this state of unfortunate affairs to continue.
“We invited them (lawyers), it was their choice to come, they may have decide to come or not. But as you saw, the Bar was very effective and massively represented by the leader of the Bar the attorney general who was there…” said justice Kavuma while addressing the press shortly after the function in his chambers
He added: “in fact in technical terms, even if there was no single lawyer from the Bar but the attorney general was there, he is the symbol of the Bar and the Bar would be represented. So those who decided not to come for various reasons, that was their choice. But the important thing it has not had advance effect on the running of the Judiciary..”
Back at the function, the seats were mainly filled by court support staff like the court clerks unlike the previous functions were the lawyers under the ULS filled them.
State lawyers from different departments like Attorney General, DPP, Administrator General; were also in attendance after they were reportedly ordered by their bosses to attend the function as lawyers in private practice indicated not to show up.
Likewise, the number of judicial officers in attendance was also small.
In his massage to Ugandans in this new judiciary year, Justice Kavuma said there were a number of reforms that they intend to handle in this new law year like setting targets for the judicial officers aimed at reducing the case back log.
He said each judge of the high court will be expected to dispose off 230 cases, Chief Magistrate- 800 cases, Principal Grade One Magistrate- 400 cases, Grade One Magistrates- 300 cases and Grade Two also 300 cases.
The other reforms that he said will be looked at in this new law year are filing of cases by way of e-filing, expanding of the magisterial areas and also having banking services brought nearer courts for easy payment of bail fees by suspects.
He also said the judiciary will come up with guidelines on handling of bail terms by judicial officers as several issues have arisen out the same.
For close to two years, the Judiciary has not had a substantive head and deputy.
This follows the exit of the former Chief Justice Benjamin Odoki in March in 2013 after he clocked the mandatory retirement age of 70 years.
Likewise, the position of deputy chief justice has been vacant following the demise of Constance Byamugisha who succumbed to breast cancer in early 2013.
Justice Steven Kavuma who is the Court of Appeal judge has since been acting in both positions