Wednesday, June 3, 2009


Some of the cardinal principles and rules of judicial conduct are to the effect that justice is administered without fear or favour, affection or ill will. However, these fundamentals seem to have been given second rate attention in our justice system lately.

The judiciary is back on the front pages of the national newspapers albeit for the wrong reasons. The decision by the Uganda Law Society members not to appear before one member of the bench newly appointed Justice,Anup Singh Choudry for alleged misconduct while in practicing law in the UK, is a highlight of the unfortunate and undesirable situation where some judicial officers have thrown the much-cherished judicial decorum to the wind.

And the problem of errant judicial officers who include magistrates at all levels and even high court judges is not new to the Ugandan public. There are numerous cases where inept and corrupt judicial officers have denied litigants justice. These by the way are the same officers who are supposed to jealously guard the succinct of our fragile justice system.

One of the celebrated and most progressive English Judges the world has come to know, Lord Denning MR (Master of Rolls) has defined justice to mean what the right -minded members of the community- those who have the right spirit within them- believe to be fair.

Lord Hewart C.J as he then was, also coined the famous phrase: " justice should not only be done, but be manifestly seen to be done " . Article 15(1) of the Constitution captures the same spirit of fairness where it states that a litigant or accused person must be afforded a fair hearing by an independent and impartial court.

The administration of such justice therefore rests on advocates and more particularly judicial officers. Their guiding star as Chief Justice Benjamin Odoki has stated previously, is the judicial oath, which is a symbol of both their independence and impartiality.

Justice Odoki has also noted that judicial officials can achieve true understanding and respect for the judiciary only as a public response to their integrity, impartiality, fair play, conscientious attention to duty and simple courtesy.

Public esteem therefore, cannot be regained until each judge is willing to accept his personal accountability as an integral part of the responsible group. Evil grows because good men do nothing about it.

Unfortunately some of the learned gentlemen and ladies of the bench seem have forgotten that they took the judicial oath to dispense the much craved for justice in our society.

And this grim picture was well captured by non other than the chief executive of this country President Yoweri Museveni some ten years back at the swearing in of Chief Justice Benjamin Odoki. In his witty style, the first remarks President Museveni made shortly after Justice Odoki had taken oath were and I quote: " Mr. Acting Chief Justice, you will have a big problem of fighting drunkenness among some of the magistrates. I have reliably learnt that drink is affecting the efficiency of some of the magistrates so much so that they are continually late in court and some are heavily in debt.

I need hardly emphasise that being drunk and being in debt are the surest ways of becoming corrupt " . But these were not the only complainants Museveni had against judicial officers in this country.
He went ahead and highlighted a number in fact eight to be precise and I will summarise them. He did complain about the notorious, yes notorious court clerks whom he said brandish their power in such a manner that those who look at them from a distance think they are executioners and not peace-makers.

These are the same clerks who extort money from the unsuspecting public while claiming to know the ' right> judges/ magistrates who can easily give a litigant the relief sought. In deed it ' s also true that some judicial officers accept ' gifts ' or call them ' envelopes ' .

The same judicial officers adjourn cases unnecessarily and this causes a failure of justice. No wonder the Chief Justice, just a fortnight ago, announced that he was working on a regulation that will limit the number of times a case can be adjourned. This could not have come at a better time for the much suffering public.

There are also reports where judicial officers in an attempt to get ' ease ' money try bogus cases at times without court files and order for fines to be paid and pocket the proceeds. I hope the readers of this column have not forgotten the scandal that again graced the cover pages of our national papers when some judicial officers pocketed millions of shilling received in bail money.

And what the public doesn ' t know is that once you pay for bail and the matter or case is settled by court such monies are supposed to be refunded. But because of the excitement of one securing their liberty, normally people don ' t claim for these monies.

Some magistrates are so lazy that they illegally compel accused persons to plead guilty and not waste court ' s time when there is a strong arguable case. They also in some cases reserve judgments for such long periods that it amounts to miscarriage of justice.

The president noted then, that if the judicial officers don' t hold the law in high repute, if people begin to feel that courts are unable to redress their wrongs speedily and cheaply, the image of the law will suffer and when the image of the law suffers, the image of the judiciary would also suffer.

It is an established principle throughout the whole of the civilized world that judges and all other judicial officers should be completely clean in their handling of disputes among the parties.

In his essay about the judicature, Bacon stated, " a judge ought to be more learned than witty, more reverend than plausible, and more advised than confident but above all 9 emphasis mine , integrity is their portion and proper virtue " .

This column will next week discuss the judicial code of conduct and subsequently examine the legal procedure of removing an errant judge/magistrate from office.

The writer is a Journalist and Advocate.


Tuesday, June 2, 2009


As the state struggles to marshal resources to meet core components of the right to health ,the majority of Ugandans who live in the country side l walk long distances to get to the nearest health center for medical attention.

And when they finally get there , the quality of services they get from these inadequately manned health centers are deploreable to say the least . These health centers lack medicines and medical implements. The poor suffering rural folks are in most cases left to the mercy of God.

One important development in the law of malpractices among medical practitioners therefore, concerns the direct liability of provider units( read village clinics or health centers) and the medical workers who man them for the failures in their services.

Courts have maintained that even in situations like Uganda where health centers are poorly serviced , in terms of medicines and medical equipment, a doctor or any other health worker has a higher duty to provide a satisfactory standard of care to avoid causing injury to a patient like the case was with Nafuna a baby girl who lost her arm due to a poorly administered injection.

The standard of care which has to be adhered to by all medical practitioners extends even to diagnosis and communication with the patient(s). For instance in medical practice, before a medical worker ventures into diagnosis, he must first get to understand the medical history of a patient.

And the readers of this column will agree that this is not the practice in many of our clinics let alone our major referral hospitals . Doctors and nurses alike , are always in a hurry to diagnosis patients even before knowing the history of the cases brought or refered to them. The doctor's failure to study the a patient's medical history can be fatal. it does not only lead to wrong diagnosis but also wrong prescription and wrong treatment and in a process aggrevates a patient's condition. That ' s why courts have again held medical workers liable if they give a wrong diagnosis which is contrary to acceptable standard practice. In situations where a patient(s) would be entitled to damages.

The intervention of courts in cases of negligence in communication by the medical professionals is also on the rise. As more and more doctors and paramedical workers become involved in a patient ' s treatment, the danger of verbal instructions to such a patient is only too apparent. Errors in the general practitioner ' s letter of referral where say a doctor refers to left leg instead of right leg can so easily lead to an injury of a patient.

In the case of Nafuna another legal issue seems to have emerged. The girl's father didn't consent to decision of the specialised doctor to amputate her harm. The question then is , in life threatening situations where minors are involved, do doctors have to seek consent of parents before carrying out a medical procedure which can like in the case of Nafuna ,lead to permanent disability?

The care of children is governed by the general principles governing professional standards. The law of consent is premised on the assumption that patients will normally be able to take decisions for themselves, but this will often not be the case with children.

In cases where children cannot consent a parent may usually give consent on their behalf. A child or minor according to our constitution is a person below the age of 18 and by implication such a person can not give legal consent. That ' s why even if a 17 year old girl willingly indulges in a sexual relation with a man, the man would still be charged with defilement and he can ' t plead that the 17 year old girl gave consent.

However, for medical purposes, courts have held that the test to be applied is whether the child had ' sufficient understanding and intelligence to enable him or her to understand fully what a doctor has proposed ' .

Understanding fully, therefore requires an appreciation of the consequences of treatment , including possible side effects, and also the anticipated consequences of failure to treat. And the test of maturity established by courts is assessed in respect of each individual child and each separate medical treatment.

An example of who the test of maturity has been applied can be found in one of the decided cases, where a 15 year old boy who was dying of leukaemia expressed his opposition to receiving a blood transfusion . the judge held that he did not appreciate the extent of the fear and distress he would suffer, and consequently did not really understand what he was demanding. He was therefore not competent to give consent.

The overwhelming picture that emerges from this is - that courts are reluctant to allow children to choose to die rather than live and extremely resistant to such decisions where the motivation is religious. And doctors need to seek consent of parents when medical treatment is required as an emergency to save life.

So Nafuna ' s case is arguable since its not clear whether her condition was treated as a case of emergency to save her life by the doctors who amputated her arm. The facts show that the girl ' s father was opposed to the doctor ' s decision to amputate- however is the doctor the girl ' s arm as an emergency to save her life, then he is protected under the law.

Courts have stated that where it would be considered unreasonable in the opinion of most relevant medical experts to withhold the medical care in question, and it does not raise social or moral considerations , then it is permissible to proceed without parental consent and even in the face of parental objection like in the case of Nafuna ' s father.

These legal principles therefore , allow medical practitioners to dispense medicines and treatment when it is done in the interest of the person who cannot consent and permit the health care professionals to judge where those interests lie.

In situations where parents disagree on the issue of consent in cases which are not of an emergency nature, courts have held the medical professional could still be held liable if the proceeded to treat a child. It is also possible that it might amount to negligence if no responsible body of professional opinion would support proceeding without the consent of both parents.

And where parents and children disagree, the law is to the effect that health professionals can only treat the basis of the parental approval. This is because the right to consent to treatment is only lost by parents once the child became competent to consent. The law presumes that parents stand in the best position to attend to the best interests of their children for as long as the case is not of an emergency nature to save the life of a minor.

Moses Paul Sserwanga
Journalists/ advocate
Mobile-0772 43 46 77