August 22, 2013

Odoki Re-appointment: Magistrates Speak Out

Judicial officers have expressed their concern about the negative image of Judiciary following the now controversial re-appointment of Benjamin Odoki as Chief Justice.

Emmy Vincent Mugabo, the president of the Uganda Judicial Officers Association (UJOA), on Friday noted that the bashing of the judiciary by the public is having a negative image on the institution. Mugabo made the remarks during the opening of the 4th annual magistrates’ conference at Colline Hotel, Mukono.

Justice Benjamin Odoki has been re-appointed Chief Justice
Justice Benjamin Odoki has been re-appointed Chief Justice

Over 300 magistrates from all over the country are in Mukono for the three day conference under the theme “Managing a Modern and Responsive Judiciary”.

Other judicial officers who did not want to be on record given the sensitivity of the matter faulted Justice Odoki for accepting the re-appointment despite clocking the retirement age of 70. The concerned magistrates wondered how the juniors will climb the leadership ladder when the likes of Odoki who have reached the retirement age are still hanging on as if there are no capable successors.

Justice and Constitutional Affairs Minister Kahinda Otafiire, who officially opened the three day conference, reserved his comments on the re-appointment of Odoki saying his name is now before Parliament for approval and that he will wait for the decision of Parliament.

During the conference, Minister Otafiire also took the same forum to caution the magistrates from being partisan while executing their judicial work.  He also asked the judicial officers to be patient and hopeful as they work on their remuneration despite having been recently given a 30% pay raise that he said was not sufficient.

The concern by lower court officers comes just days after the lawyers under the Uganda Law Society (ULS) petitioned Speaker of Parliament Rebecca Kadaga asking her not to approve Odoki as CJ, saying his re-appointment is illegal.

Odoki clocked the retirement age on March 23 this year before serving out the three months extension that ended on June 23.

But amidst debates over who should take over from the man who spent 35 years as a judge, 10 of them as CJ, President Yoweri Museveni side-stepped the advice of the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) and re-appointed Justice Odoki. In a July 9 letter addressed to the chairman of JSC Justice James Ogoola, Museveni directed that Odoki be given a two year contract in order to maximise the services of the country’s human resource. The President also ordered that other four retired Supreme Court justices be recalled back to the Bench.

But his re-appointment has been criticised by several players including; the law society, opposition politicians, MPs and academicians. Apparently, Western Youth MP Gerald Karuhanga has petitioned the Constitutional Court challenging Odoki’s re-appointment.

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