What next as Museveni’s cadre judges win?
Kampala, Uganda | AGATHER ATUHAIRE | On Aug 18 President Yoweri Museveni appointed a new Deputy Chief Justice to replace DCJ Steven Kavuma who retires this month and elevated two other justices from Court Of Appeal to Supreme Court. The DCJ designate pending parliamentary approval is Justice Alphonse OwinyDollo and the two elevated to Supreme Court are former Director of Public Prosecution Richard Butera and former head of the Anti-Corruption Court Paul Mugamba.
While one would think the public would be happy about the retirement of Kavuma due to the way he has presided over the Court of Appeal/ constitutional Court, the choice of his replacement has caused mixed reaction in legal circles.
Most lawyers The Independent has spoken to think Owiny-Dollo will be no different from Kavuma since he is also “easily swayed by Museveni”.
Owiny-Dollo is a former politician who lost the Agago County parliamentary seat to Morris Ogenga Latigo in 2006. He has also served as State Minister for Northern Uganda before he was called to the Bench as High Court Judge. In 2006, he was on the Museveni’s defense research team when leading opposition leader Kizza Besigye challenged Museveni presidential election win in court. His biggest case as judge has been presiding over the case of the 2010 twin bombings in Kampala where he convicted seven of the suspects in 2015. He was in the same year appointed to the Court of Appeal.
In the eyes of many, Owiny-Dollo beat of stiff competition to become DCJ. In this case, Museveni appointed three judges that have been on Court of Appeal for barely three years when there are more senior judges that have sat on the court for much longer and appeared more qualified. Justice Remmy Kasule and Justice Frederick Egonda-Ntende are often mentioned. Many say they are Supreme Court pedigree at least.
Remmy Kasule has served on the Court of Appeal since 2011 but he could have ascended to it earlier in 2002 if his name had not been rejected by Museveni when he was first nominated. Museveni had then preferred the outgoing DCJ Kavuma instead.
Kasule was the only Judge of the five justices of the Court that ruled in favor of the rebel MPs when NRM sought to throw them out of Parliament after their expulsion from the party.
In an elaborate dissenting judgment, Kasule said that expulsion from a party does not mean an MP automatically loses his seat in Parliament. The rebel MPs based on his ruling to challenge the decision of the majority in the Supreme Court which confirmed Kasule’s judgment. Kasule is the current Chairman of the Uganda Law Council and former President of Uganda Law Society.
Egonda-Ntende has also been praised in the legal circles for giving “thorough and independent” judgments. He recently returned from the Republic of Seychelles where he served as a Chief Justice for five years.
He was, upon return, reappointed to the Court of Appeal where he had been serving before he left.
He is famous for his land mark ruling in the case of Osotraco vs Attorney General, where he said that the state is not above the law and ordered for the eviction of a government ministry from the property of the plaintiff company. His other famous case is that of maverick army general David Tinyefuza Vs Attorney General where the Constitutional Court ruled for Tinyefuza’s retirement from the army before its Judgment was overruled by the Supreme Court.
Senior lawyer Wandera Ogalo says there were more experienced judges that the President could have appointed.
“I don’t doubt the capability of the judges that have been appointed,” Ogalo says, “I think they are competent Judges but in this case I think there were more experienced Judges that deserved the appointment.”
He added, “A Judge like Kasule has a long experience in private practice, the lawyers have great confidence in him having been President of the ULS and their representative on the Judicial Service Commission. And then there is Egonda-Ntende, a person who has even been a Chief Justice of another country.”
Another senior Lawyer who talked to the Independent on condition of anonymity said it is unfortunate that Museveni skips judges with vast experience and unequalled competence.
“A Judge like Egonda-Ntende is Supreme Court material,” he said, “a Judge like Remmy Kasule is Supreme Court material.”
Another interesting choice is that of Justice Paul Mugamba. Of the three appointees to the Supreme Court, he is seen by many as most deserving of the appointment. Like many judges, observers say, he would possibly dance to Museveni’s tune. But, they say, not as ebulliently as Butera and Owiny-Dollo. In other words, Mugamba, is not perceived as a thorough-bred cadre judge; a title that refers to judges whom Museveni can count on to automatically rule in his favour and that of the ruling NRM party at all times.