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I remanded Idi Amins wife – Justice Katutsi

By P. Matsiko wa Mucoori and Rosebell Kagumire

On April 8, Justice John Bosco Katutsi, who heads of the Anti-corruption Court, delivered a landmark judgement in the fight against corruption. He shared his experiences as a judicial officer from president Idi Amins era to the present day – under President Museveni with The Independents P. Matsiko wa Mucoori and Rosebell Kagumire. Excerpts:-

When did you enter the judiciary?

I graduated from university on March 22, 1972. We were supposed to go to the LDC (Law Development Centre) for a diploma [in legal practice], we were the pioneers. As you remember that is the year, Amin expelled the Asians and most of the Grade One magistrates were Asians.

So when we were at the Law Development Centre Amin was told that most of the courts “are empty.” They had no magistrates after the expulsion of Asians. Amin said ‘I recently passed out many judges.’ You know for them they would call anybody [a graduate of law] a judge. So they said those people are still at LDC. Amin said, ‘for what?’ What is all that knowledge for? He said they should go and work. So we were sent to work. I was sent to Mbale; that was my first station. I reported on January 1, 1973.  After six months we went back to finish our course at LDC but I continued to be a magistrate up to 1977. In 1977, I moved from Mbale, then to Tororo and Masaka. From Masaka I was appointed chief magistrate and posted to Masindi. Then from Masindi to Kabale and from Kabale to my home [in Rukungiri] in 1980 after I resigned. I came back after the exit of Obote; what had made me resign was over now. So in 1988 I came back to government as a Chief Magistrate, I went to Mpigi.

It is said that you made one of the most daring moves during President Amins time. Its said that you convicted one of his wives. What crime had she committed?

No, thats not true. I did not convict her. Amin wanted this woman [Miriam Amin] to be arrested and detained. They had parted, sort of separated, they were no longer cohabiting; this woman was [now] a wholesaler of merchandise. She was arrested on her way to Busia to sell her merchandise. And she was charged with smuggling and at that time I was a Grade One magistrate in Tororo. (Justice George] Engwau now with Court of Appeal was my Chief Magistrate so he had left me in charge as acting Chief Magistrate. I got a directive [from Amin] that I should send her on remand. So she was brought accompanied by over 100 soldiers and I read the charge. She pleaded not guilty. She applied for bail which was opposed by government and I sent her on remand. That’s all I did. Amin after some weeks directed that she should be released.  So I never convicted her, I just sent her on remand. In fact it was Mariam Amin.Â

After she was released, she sent a present to my court clerk with a message that I had played my role very well. In appreciation she gave a shirt to my court clerk. This is because I had put the prosecutor to task about the charge sheet, the way it was framed and so forth. So I put people to task like the late Omondi, who was prosecuting the case. When I started to task the police officer who was investigating the case, the state attorney Omondi was forced to step in. So I think that’s what interested her in the role I had played.

How did you cope with dispensing justice during the fascist regime of Idi Amin and what was your biggest challenge as a judicial officer at that time?

Yes, you can describe Amin’s regime as being fascist. I don’t know why but other than having the Chief Justice (Justice Benedict Kiwanuka) being whisked away and killed, I don’t remember any instance where Amin or any other officers interfered with our work.  Of course you would get somebody telling you something about a certain case but personally I never saw anybody trying to interfere with my work.

During Obote’s time you took another daring move when you resigned from the judiciary after a person you had convicted was released from Ndorwa prison on orders of a minister, what exactly happened?

Thats not true. I resigned for personal reasons. There was an aunt of Dr Ezra Nkwasibwe [Health minister in Obote II government]. She had been allegedly assaulted by the son of a famous Kabale man called Ngorogoza. It was a time when there was shortage of commodities and this woman was lining up to receive commodities. And I heard that Ngorogoza’s son – he was a sub-county chief – sort of pushed her and you know her being an aunt of a minister in Obote government she sued for assault. So the accused was charged and freed on bail. But I never presided over the case because I resigned shortly after that. I didn’t want to serve under Obote.

Why didnt you want to serve under Obote?

I had my personal misgivings so I put in my resignation. That was 1980. I assigned the case to another magistrate. My resignation had nothing to do with that case [of minister Nkwasibwe’s aunt].

When you came back in 1988, did you apply or you were sourced by government?

I applied and was posted to Mpigi, then I went to Mbale very briefly. From Mbale I went to Mbarara still as a Chief Magistrate. It was from Mbarara where I was made acting judge. That was in November 1993 and I came to Kampala.

And in case you want to know, I will be throwing in my towel come December next year.

You were appointed back to the judiciary in 1988 and you have been rising through the ranks, what have you found as the most challenging or happiest moment in your career?

When you are a judge and you make an order and it is obeyed. I am happy that throughout my career I haven’t seen any of my judgements interfered with. All have been complied with including when I ordered that Kizza [Besigye] be released from remand. The order was obeyed, he was released. That’s the happiest moment of a judge; to see that the law is being abided.

You withdrew from Besigye’s treason trial saying you were being accused by the state of being a Besigye sympathiser. You said you would not want to be labelled an expert on Besigyeism…

I didn’t say the state had accused me. I said I had heard it in rumours but I never heard the state say I was a sympathiser of Besigye. I am apolitical, I don’t belong to any party and I don’t intend to be for the rest of my life. I was once in one and that was the end. It was some individuals [accusing me of being a Besigye sympathiser]. Like during that case, this man Ofwono Opondo wrote some rubbish in some newspaper that I was from Rukungiri (where Besigye comes from). Otherwise the state never accused me of being a sympathiser. I have never been and I will never be. These rumours were from some few government officials as individuals.

Youre now the head of the Anti-corruption Court, how do you evaluate the work so far done?

We are two judges and Justice Paul Mugamba is my deputy. There is a plan to appoint two Chief Magistrates and four Grade One magistrates. I am not one of those who go around beating their chests; I would rather let others judge our work than me talking about it.

What challenges does the court face?

We lack logistics. You see this is a new court. May be the question you should have asked is why are we under the Criminal Division?  This is supposed to be a specialised court, a small court to deal with specific types of crime. And the challenges are many. We would have had premises of our own, with a library, registry and our own court room outside this place though part of the court.

We need specialised training. Corruption is not a Ugandan problem; it is worldwide becoming a menace. And criminals are becoming wiser and wiser by the day; new crimes are emerging everyday because of technology. We have what we call cyber crime, and this kind of crime needs special training; to know what is cyber crime, how is it committed and how you can prove it in court. So training is needed not only here but also in other institutions like DPP, IGG, CID in order to fight this kind of crime.

We need training of personnel to match techniques used by criminals so we need both local and international training. We need literature in form of textbooks. Also, I would advise that once someone has been put in a division and has got the specialised knowledge, they should not be moved. If you do so you are destroying the purpose for which the person was trained.

Like in Britain when you are appointed a judge, you are either appointed to go to Queens Division, that’s where you serve until you retire. But here, today you are in the Civil Division and tomorrow you are in Criminal Division. Moving around kills specialisation. Those are the few challenges but otherwise mostly I can say the court’s performance is so far so good.

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