Judiciary: Allowing ‘kids’ on the Bench is messing up the Temple of Justice

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By Gawaya Tegulle

What you need to know:


  • ‘‘It is a failure of policy to pick kids fresh from LDC and appointing them as judicial officers”

Can’t say I recall every detail of that case; but the basics were that it was a small matter in criminal court and the accused was 85 years old. When I applied for bail, the State prosecutor agreed that the old man should go home. Under normal circumstances, when the prosecution (the ‘owner’ of the case) readily agrees to a bail application, the court really has no business declining or delaying a decision – unless, otherwise. But the [very] young lady on the Bench said she needed time to make a ruling. Must have been rushing to pick ice cream…or buy a teddy bear. She remanded the old man to prison, pending her decision. Any lawyer reading this will immediately see a problem. What was there to make a decision about? And why would one remand an 85-year old, all factors equal?

Recently the Deputy Chief Justice, Mr  Richard Buteera admonished magistrates for turning the courts of law into personal kingdoms, and perverting the course of justice. Timely clarion call! There is a very big problem with Uganda’s lower Bench! Too many cases of strange decisions that leave lawyers and litigants alike properly bamboozled. Even the way court is conducted is strange and very disturbing. There are, of course, very many good magistrates whose methods of work you quickly respect. But then again, too many cases that make your eyes roll in their sockets.

Part of the causation here is a failure of policy: picking kids fresh from the Bar Course at Law Development Centre and appointing them as judicial officers. This country has a very high bar for the recruitment of judges: you must have tucked 10 years of legal practice in the High Court under the belt before you bother applying. Ten years may be nothing in the life of a nation, but it is a very long time in the life of a person. In 10 years, a lawyer will have, ideally, been exposed to all kinds of situations in and outside the courtroom. In 10 years, a lawyer will have learnt a lot about life and matured into a responsible adult who appreciates a legal problem from a very broad frame of reference. But when it comes to magistrates, the Judiciary readily appoints fresh graduates.

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