On behalf of the Coalition in Support of the Independence of the Judiciary (CISTIJ), allow me to welcome you all to this press briefing. This Coalition comprises like-minded good governance civil society organizations including The Centre for Public Interests Law (CEPIL), Chapter Four Uganda, Legal Aid Service Provider’s Network (LASPNET), Foundation for Human Rights Initiative (FHRI), Anti-Corruption Coalition Uganda (ACCU-U), The Association of Women Lawyers in Uganda (FIDA-U) under the auspices of the Uganda Law Society (ULS). As you may already be aware, this Coalition has been at the forefront of advocating for progressive reforms aimed at ensuring an operationally functional and effective institution of the Judiciary in Uganda.
We applaud the developments of Wednesday, 07thFebruary 2018. This coalition commends His Excellency the President of The Republic of Uganda and the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) for finalizing nominations of 14 eminent persons to be considered for appointment as Justices of the Court of Appeal/Constitutional Court and Judges of the High Court. Though long overdue, these nominations signal for a breath of fresh lease of life into the institution of the Judiciary. It is no secret that for a very long time, the institution of the Judiciary has been crippled by a multitude of factors rendering it inefficient in the performance of its constitutional mandate of administering justice to the citizens of Uganda. Chief amongst challenges this institution continues to face is understaffing of judicial officers who are at the forefront of administering justice. For instance, we all know of the deep shortage of Justices at the Court of Appeal/Constitutional Court which nearly crippled its operational capabilities. The same is witnessed at the High Court and Magisterial areas where shortages of Judges and Magistrates has for a very long time had negative consequences on the rate of case disposals with a resultant huge backlog of cases; ultimately rendering the institution of the Judiciary ineffective from a service delivery perspective. The Judiciary and its key ally the civil society organizations have made several calls over a long period of time to the appointing authority to expeditiously fill the existing vacancies in the Courts of records.
Though long overdue, the Coalition welcomes these nominations for appointments in the belief that it shall strengthen the Judiciary’s capability to effectively deal with case backlog and expeditiously dispense off cases thereby enhancing the administration of justice. We further congratulate all those who have been nominated for appointments to serve in their respective capacities and implore them to effectively carry out their Constitutional mandate to dispense justice to the citizenry with utmost fairness in sync with the laws of the land.
Even when we applaud the appointing authority, we still continue to take note of the fact that these nominations for appointments are merely a drop in the ocean and notably limited to the Higher Courts yet the majority of the cases are handled by the lower bench. In his speech at the official opening of the New Law Year 2018, The Chief Justice reiterated the need for 300 judicial Officers to fill 40% of vacancies in the Registry and Magistracy. The lower bench suffers from the highest number of vacancies, thereby a crippling problem of delay and arrears in disposing off cases. The Coalition, therefore, calls upon His Excellency the President and the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) to consider an increased and even distribution of nominations to cater for appointments at the lower courts. After all, it is at this level that majority of cases involving the bigger percentage of our citizens is handled.
We also believe that the appointment processes ought to be made more procedurally transparent so as to build more credence, acceptability and legitimacy for persons holding these positions. We delight in the fact that the process has positively evolved over time, from head-hunting, to nominations by different stakeholders and; now being opened to allow applications from individuals seeking judicial offices. However, there are still numerous concerns about the process which ought to be addressed by the Judicial Service Commission (JSC). For example, there is no known criteria of applying for a judicial office. The process does not take into consideration the quality of the persons in character and values but rather rest more emphasis on the academic qualifications.
We call upon the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) to ensure detailed and standardized criteria of appointment be made known to the public. Nominations for Appointments should be based on merit, also taking into consideration the integrity, character and attitude of those seeking Judicial Offices. A clear, merited and competence-based criteria for assessing candidates must be developed to ultimately restore acceptability and dignity of the institution of the Judiciary.
We will also continue to implore the appointing authority to embrace the idea of ensuring that the appointment processes be rationalized to pave way for serving and career judicial officers with the required competence be given priority for appointments and promoting in order of seniority and experience. This way, the institution will not only reward its long-serving staff but also encourage a more organic process of ‘breeding’ it’s very own and giving them the chance to gradually ascend the institution’s hierarchy to top positions on the bench. The retention of expertise and experience from within the institution is key to enhancing effectiveness in service delivery. This Coalition is heartened to note the nomination of some serving and career judges and registrars to the bench.
The Coalition continues to call upon the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) to speedily effect the appointment processes to fill vacant positions in the Judiciary as immediately as possible. Vacant positions in the Judiciary spells negative for the dispensation of justice and builds on the case backlog thereby undermining the objective of the Judiciary to dispense its constitutional mandate.
Most importantly, the Coalition calls upon Parliament to fast-track the enactment of the Judiciary Administration Bill, 2014 into law so as to give the Judiciary a measure of administrative and financial autonomy. This bill is intended to provide; for efficient and effective administration of the judiciary thereby establishing structures of administration, for employment and disciplinary control of employees, the funds to effectively facilitate operations of the courts, training, and inspection.
Lastly, we call upon the institution of the Judiciary to take these nominations for appointments with great measure in its stride to improve on the administration of justice from a service delivery perspective across the country. These nominations for appointments in the institution comes in with a huge measure of responsibility and high level of expectations for enhanced performance and accountability from the general citizenry on whose behalf the Judiciary exercises its power of administering justice.
On behalf of the Coalition, allow me to once again thank His Excellency the President and the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) for these nominations for appointments. We also call upon Parliament to swiftly approve these nominations for appointments. After all, Justice Delayed is Justice Denied.
For God and Our Country
Chairperson of the Coalition