Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | The Chief Justice Alfonse Owinyi-Dollo has asked the Prime Minister Robinah Nabbanja to use her energy for better things other than interfering in the work of the judiciary.
Speaking on Monday afternoon at Mestil Hotel in Kampala, while opening the annual Registrars and Magistrates’ Conference, Owinyi-Dollo went bare knuckles in responding to the actions of Nabbanja who last week stormed the Mengo Magistrates Court, and grilled Grade One Magistrate Amon Mugezi, who had ordered for the imprisonment of a widow of seven children due to a land dispute that had been decided ex parte.
Amidst thunderous applause from the judicial officers, Dollo said Nabbanja’s actions are unacceptable in a country that has a constitution that recognizes the judiciary as one of three equal but independent arms of government.
“I commend the Prime Minister for her zeal except this time it was misplaced,” Dollo said attracting a standing ovation. “We hear Isimba Dam was closed just after two months of its commissioning…, there is no reliable power in Gulu, that’s where she should exercise zeal. Whenever I go to the village people come to me to give them money to buy medicine in the pharmacy, the Prime Minister must be concerned…, that’s where the zeal should be. At a personal level, the Prime Minister is a very good person but she misdirected her efforts.”
Dollo said that he would be failing in his duties if he didn’t speak out forcefully against the actions of Nabbanja and defended his judicial officers.
“I would be failing in my duty if I see this kind of abuse and I keep quiet,” he said. “Don’t be intimated by whosoever comes to your court because we take an oath not to favour any person… I believe in harmony, I will take it that my sister slipped. If she is a litigant in your court tomorrow, do justice to her but the rest we will sort it out administratively. I thank the Attorney General who has got in touch with me to find a solution, but the judiciary under my watch, we will not be intimidated,” Dollo said.
He asked the assembled judicial officers not to be intimidated by anybody while they carry out their constitutional duties. He said even when they err, there is an appeal mechanism that the constitution has set out in which that error can be rectified.
He however called upon the judicial officers to stay away from actions that tarnish the reputation of the judiciary. He said if anybody is caught outside the ambits of the law, he would not hesitate to call for his or her sacking.
“If you behave in a manner that is not becoming, I will apologize to the people of Uganda but I will see your back and that one is non-negotiable. It’s so difficult to join the judiciary, please, nobody wants any judicial officer to leave the judiciary unless when you beg us by doing things that are non-excusable. People will always accuse you but if you do the right thing, don’t fear those accusations. You will only fear these accusations when you know you have done the wrong thing,” Dollo said.
For his part, Mugezi, the Magistrate who was belittled by Nabbanja, thanked the Chief Justice for standing with him in his hour of humiliation.
Meanwhile, Chief Justice Dollo said he is excited by the increase in the number of judicial officers across the country. He said before the expiry of his tenure, he will have ensured that every constituency has got a grade one magistrate and every district and division has got a chief magistrate. He added that they are going to open up new High court circuits in districts such as Kitgum, Apac, Katakwi, Lyantonde, Kasese, Bushenyi among others, expand the Court of Appeal and Supreme Court from 15 to 56, and 15 to 21 justices respectively.
“We are not there yet but when I see these numbers, I see people who have the capacity to make a difference in the administration of justice, we fought for and had a meaningful improvement in our budget and we want to achieve a meaningful transformation of the judiciary…Access to justice has got two ingredients; we must create stations where the people seeking justice will go but also what matters more is the software, who are the people. You can have a court building but if the software is not effective, we would have given our people false hope,” Dollo said.
For his part, the Principal Judge Flavian Zeija who heads the High Court and the subordinate courts applauded the judiciary for the success so far achieved.
In his speech read for him by the acting Principal Judge Musa Ssekaana, Zeija attributed this success to a number of reasons including the increase is staff levels.
Every year, the judiciary holds two conferences, one for the High Court, Court of Appeal and Supreme Court judges, and the other for the lower judicial officers.