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.


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