Attacks on judicial officers like attacks on public figures and on ordinary members of the public are troubling events. These attacks are targeted violence-incidents where an identified target is selected by the perpetrator prior to the attack and therefore cannot be said to be accidental.
On Saturday 17th, July 2021, the Buganda Road Chief Magistrate, Her Worship Gladys Kamasanyu was attacked by unknown assailants around the Greenhill School Academy as she was collecting her child’s Primary Leaving Education result slip. This is not the first time a judicial officer has been attacked by unknown assailants. These among many other treacherous acts show that judicial officers are increasingly under threat of attack by these unknown assailants.
The independence of the Judiciary underpins the rule of law as essential to the functioning of a democratic state. However, these increasing attacks on judicial officers is diminishing the independence of the Judiciary and rule of law through the ever-growing intimidation brought about by these attacks.
The principle of an independent Judiciary stems from the theory of separation of powers whereby the Executive, Legislature and Judiciary form three separate branches of government. This independence means that both the Judiciary and the individual judges deciding particular cases must be able to exercise their professional responsibilities without any influence of whatever kind. It is from that, that only an independent Judiciary can render justice impartially.
The fundamental right to a “fair trial” by an independent and impartial court/tribunal is enshrined under Article 28 of the 1995 Constitution of Uganda which provides that a person shall be entitled to a speedy and public hearing before an independent and impartial court. In addition to that, Article 126 and 128 read together provide that judicial power is to be exercised by the courts which shall be independent and not subject to any control form any person or authority. This therefore means that judicial officers are mandated to dispense justice under the Judiciary arm of government that is independent of any direct or indirect interference of any nature.
For judicial officers to efficiently dispense this justice, they need to be impartial, looking at evidence that has been presented to them while relying on the law so as to come up with an independent decision. But whenever there is any sort of intimidation, judicial officers will not be able to fully perform and or fulfil their judicial oath. This only curtails one outcome which is loss of confidence in the Judiciary by the public.
The duty to protect the rights of all citizens; is irrespective of whether their judgements or rulings are unpopular. I agree that at times, judges are required to make tough calls and sometimes these calls are unpopular leaving the public angry and upset. But this does not necessitate an attack on the guardians of Justice.
According to a story on judicial security run by the Independent newspaper, the Judiciary has more than 500 police officers providing security to judicial officers. Judges are guarded by officers from the counter terrorism unit and the Very Important person Protection Unit while upcountry courts are guarded by regular police officers, but, not all judicial officers starting from magistrates get this security. In a story by the Independent Newspaper that was run on June 3, 2021, judicial bodyguards were complaining of their delayed payments by the Judiciary. The Judiciary on the other hand were saying that there were many bodyguards and that they had lost count. They further went on to state that some judicial officers especially magistrates and Chief Magistrates secured body guards yet they were not supposed to.
Importance of judicial security cannot be underestimated. Security for judicial officers is something that should be given paramount attention by the Judiciary because of the vital role judicial officers play in our societies. Not only are they guardians of justice, they are also mandated to uphold the law. The part judicial officers play in society goes hand in hand with the level of protection they need. I believe that all judicial officers especially those at the lower bench deserve some sort of protection as this will ensure that the independence of the judiciary is not threatened.
I implore the Judiciary to provide more security to all judicial officers irrespective of their ranks. Issues such as improving court room security, safeguarding judicial officers and their families at home with some sort of restrictions of social media engagements by judicial officers are some of the measures the Judiciary should look into. The judiciary the public needs, is one that is seen to not only be impartial but independent.