Timely. Last week, President Museveni appointed Supreme Court Justice Bart Katureebe as Chief Justice ending a two-year vacuum. Daily Monitor’s Anthony Wesaka caught up with him at his residence in Bugolobi, a Kampala suburb on Monday and had a one-on-one with him on a wide range of issues affecting the Judiciary as well as his plans for an institution many have lost confidence in.
When you received the news about your appointment as Chief Justice, what was your first reaction to the same?
We were attending the Golden Jubilee of Muntuyera High School, Kitunga in Ntungamo as old boys. I felt uneasy as I received many messages and calls so I decided to switch off my phone. But at that time, I treated the rumour as a hoax.
But when the Principal Judge (Yorokamu Bamwine) felt confident enough to announce it publicly at the function, then other people started saying they had heard of it on news and read it on the internet, I said may be it could be true but importantly, when the Prime Minister Ruhakana Rugunda made reference to the appointment in his speech, people started referring to me now as Chief Justice designate.
The Prime Minister said: “yes Chief Justice designate, we know that the whole country has been waiting for the name Bart Katureebe, we do not expect to have problems with Parliament.”
So, we said if it has come from the Prime Minister, it must be true. But till that point, I had remained skeptical because nobody had called me. I understand since I had switched off the phones, they could not get me but I am told they tried to reach me.
Your appointment as the head of the third arm of state has been widely welcomed by people across the board. This means that the people have faith in you as CJ, what new ideas and innovations do you bring to Judiciary?
I am humbled but gratified to hear of the massive support from the people of this country for a job that is both stressing and challenging.
It is stressing in the sense that I can move forward knowing that I have support of the population and a challenge because I must try to live up to their expectations. Now I won’t be carried away that I can satisfy the expectations of everybody.
The Chief Justice by himself cannot satisfy all the challenges that the Judiciary as the third branch of State faces.
But the Chief Justice as the chief administrator and head of that department should open up lines of communication with other branches of government to ensure they too give support to Judiciary in administering justice to the people of this country.
Under this administration of justice, there so many things like the judiciary getting the necessary tools, funds, and personnel in terms of numbers and quality to do the job.
If I had all the power as Chief Justice, for example, to appoint judges that the courts need, probably I would do it tomorrow, but I wouldn’t appoint the judges without consulting the Executive to see how much funds are available in the National Budget to do that.
Now that I have this support and the country expects me to do something about the judiciary, I believe I will succeed in convincing the other arms to prioritise the needs of the Judiciary alongside other priorities in the context of administration of justice and good governance of the country.
If I can get more resources allocated to the judiciary in terms of more finances, personnel and recruitment of judges for example, I would be on the right path in answering some of the expectations the people have in me.
I would strengthen the inspection arm in the judiciary so that some of the malpractices that are reported in the Judiciary especially in the lower Bench, can be checked.
Sometimes you have people working but if they are not properly supervised, sometimes you have some magistrates reporting to work at 11am, midday and yet courts are supposed to be opening for people at 9am. I believe with a strong administration and supervision we can check that.
But to achieve that, it’s not a matter of opening the lines of communication with the other branches of government but also with internal cohesion to discuss with other leaders of the court. For example, the Constitution says the deputy Chief Justice administers Court of Appeal and Constitutional Court on behalf of the Chief Justice.
This means there must be an open channel of communication between the CJ and the person to assist him to run that court so that the judges there should feel free to come to CJ in the event that there is a matter that can’t be solved by the deputy Chief Justice and that will call for regular meetings with deputy Chief Justice so that matters of administration can be smoothed out and create an internal cohesion.
The Principal Judge assists the CJ to administer justice at the High Court and the subordinate courts; that means there must be an open line of communication between CJ and the Principal Judge.
And then the Uganda Judges and Magistrates Association, there must be that linkage right from the Supreme Court down to the lowest magistrate court so that the Chief Justice knows everything that is going on.
Once we can sort this out and people get to appreciate their roles, and are motivated, I think we can get back on the right path and with that I hope I will get support from the other two arms of government.
Politically, the Supreme Court is a very important court as it has the powers to overturn a presidential election once it finds irregularities. Given the fact that the general elections are around the corner, can the Supreme Court under your leadership overturn a presidential election at the expense of a country going into lawlessness?
The primary thing to look at is not what may be at the back of your mind. First and foremost, two people have come before you. This one says I stood and I was cheated of victory and this is my evidence to prove it.
And someone says no, I won fair and square, his evidence is false. As the judge, without even thinking about what will happen, I have a duty to do justice between these two people based on their evidence, what does the law say, I look at the law and I look at the evidence.
Has this man proved his case and has this one disapproved the case of the other, this is what should basically guide the court.
You take on the Judiciary at the time when there are salient issues of intrigue and infighting amongst some senior staff. As the administrative head, how are you going to bring about harmony?
I also heard about that talk at the judges’ conference but we were not told exactly who was fighting who and for what reason. But as the head of the judiciary, I am going to find out who is specifically fighting who and why, so that we may counsel them.
The Court of Appeal has been accused of taking sides in some political cases especially those involving the ruling party, as the new head of the judiciary, do you have plans to bring ‘sanity’ into this court?
Various people may have had misgivings or misunderstandings about what the court decided but it is simple, there is an avenue, all matters decided upon by the Constitutional Court are appealable. It’s not enough to say oh, this judge I think is NRM and so on.
If you are dissatisfied with the decision of that court and you have a legal case and grounds for appeal then you bring the matter to Supreme Court. The Court of Appeal is not the final for constitutional matters.
A case may have been heard in Court of Appeal by five judges but when it comes to the Supreme Court, it will be heard by seven judges, surely if you have something of substance, you can’t say all these seven judges would have been on one side.
Some of these allegations are due to lack of trust in the system and part of my challenges is to restore that trust if it has been lessened in any way.
Corruption and case backlog have been Judiciary’s biggest challenges that have dented its image. How will you bring back the lost public confidence in the temple of justice?
This country has been talking about corruption, before I got to the Judiciary, let’s talk about corruption generally. The first anti-corruption law I think was passed in 1970 and the latest was passed few years ago.
Why do we have anti-corruption legislation, it can’t be because there is corruption in the Judiciary. It must be because there is corruption in the society. And where do we get people who become judicial officers, certainly from the same society.
If you have been a corrupt lawyer, stealing people’s money, hiding evidence, bribing police and magistrates and you are appointed judge, do you suddenly become an angel because you have become a judge?
No. I want people to look at the problem from the societal point of view.
When someone gets arrested by police for an offence even for viral offences like rape, defilement, who are the people who go and bribe police, State Attorneys and magistrates to free their person, members of the society even some times parents of the victim, want to settle the matter out of court. All that goes to show you the problem of tackling corruption does not just lie in the Judiciary. If it’s for example bribery; there is the one who bribes, the one bribed and the beneficiary of the decision.
All these are parties to corruption but when the society talks about corruption in the Judiciary, they only look at that one angle, the judge or magistrate as the corrupt one and do not consider the person who took him a bribe. By the way, corruption is not only about money, even phone calls. Because your case is before a judge who is your brother, friend, political friend and you call them and tell them of an upcoming matter in which you have interest is corruption.
That is corruption because you are trying to influence that judge to look at your evidence with a biased mind in your favour. So, how are we going to fight those instances of corruption?
As judicial officers, we are going to try to clean up our own house. If we catch you accepting a bribe, or being influenced in this type of manner, there are avenues for dealing with it.
We have the Judicial Service Commission and if you are a magistrate or registrar, you can be handled there decisively. I think you have heard that some have been reprimanded and some prosecuted, and demoted by the Judiciary.
If you are a judge, and the Judicial Service Commission is satisfied that the evidence against you in this matter of misconduct is sufficient, they will establish a tribunal to investigate you. And the Constitution says you must be suspended when you are being investigated. So come with that evidence and lodge that complaint and let the people who are supposed to handle it, handle it.
But there are matters of an internal nature, when a complaint comes up, as Chief Justice do I ignore it or follow it up? I intend to follow up every single complaint that will be made against a judicial officer, take an interest in it. I can’t say I am the one who will be doing the investigations but cause proper investigations to be done so that a remedial action is taken but we shall do this as a team. B
ut I would urge the public to help us to solve the bigger problem. Stop trying to influence our judicial officers, stop calling them on phones.
Personally, I had a situation several years ago I went to a farm, my farm somewhere and a friend, a fellow farmer asked if he could come to see me. Sure, I said come but he came with a friend whom I didn’t know.
We talked about cows and so on and then he eventually told his friend that the judge is about to go back to Kampala and that he had better narrate his ordeal. The friend said you know I filed case at the High Court in Kampala.
I said, oh that will be handled there. No, he said, “the case is coming before you next Tuesday as a single judge.” That raised in me a red flag. I told him not to talk about it.
He said he just wanted to brief me about it. I tried to explain to him the dangers in that. The danger is this: If I had listened to him and the following day listened to his case and fortunately it had merits and I rule in his favour, he would go around talking of how we had had a prior meeting. When I reached Kampala, I asked another judge to handle it.
We are also investigating cases of lawyers who are asking for so much money from clients reasoning that part of it is for a judge and in most cases, the judges in question are not aware of such an arrangement.
As leaders, we shall try to clean our house of all cases of corruption.
Brief bio data
Background. Justice Bart Magunda Katureebe was born on June 20, 1950, to Yowana Magunda and Evirginia Engoni in Rugazi village, Bushenyi District now Rubirizi District. He is a member of the Supreme Court with a career in the legal profession, spanning about 33 years. The 64-year-old is married with six children. He becomes the first Chief Justice from western Uganda to assume this office since independence.
Education. Justice Katureebe began his education at Rugazi Primary School from 1957 to 1962. He then went to St Joseph Junior Secondary School, Mbarara for his Junior One and Junior Two. He then joined Kitunga High School for his O-Level from 1965-1968. He went to Namilyango College for his A-Level where he completed in 1970. Thereafter, he joined Makerere University where he pursued a Bachelor of Laws and graduated in 1974. A year later, he graduated from the Law Development Centre.
Work experience. He joined the Justice ministry as a State attorney, later rising to the rank of principal State attorney. In 1983, he left government service and joined private practice. Five years later, he was appointed deputy minister for Regional Corporation, a docket he held for a short while before being appointed deputy minister for Industry and Technology. Between 1991 and 1992, he was again appointed to another docket as Health minister and at the same time, a member of the NRC. Then between 1994 and 1995, he was a member of the Constituent Assembly representing Bunyaruguru County in then Bushenyi District. In 1996, he became Justice minister-cum-Attorney General until 2001. During his tenure as the Attorney General, he represented Uganda at the International Criminal Court of Justice at the Hague in a case where Uganda was accused of plundering the natural resources of DR Congo.
He rejoined private practice shortly after 2001 and worked with Kampala Associated Advocates, a law firm. Then President Museveni appointed him Supreme Court judge in July 2005. He is also currently a member of the Judicial Service Commission.
Other tasks awaiting the CJ
Pay rise for judicial officers is another huge task that lies ahead of the new leadership.
During a closed-door meeting at the recent judges’ conference, there was a resolution that a four-member team of judges be set up to lobby for pay rise.
The judges earn between Shs9 shillings to Shs11 million per month.
The source that attended the closed-door meeting quoted judges comparing themselves to university professors who are now earning a monthly salary of Shs15 million and yet they do more work but earn what they called peanuts.
Justice Katureebe also has to make sure that the judicial officers that he will lead meet the proposed work targets of each High Court judge concluding 230 cases every year.
The other issue ahead of Katureebe is to lobby for increased budgetary allocation to the Judiciary.
The procedure for selecting a CJ
The Judicial Service Commission advertises in the media for suitable candidates to apply. They develop a shortlist and forward it to the President who is the appointing authority. The President picks from the list a person whose name he forwards to the Speaker of Parliament for approval by the Appointments Committee. Other candidates for this job were Principal Judge Yorokamu Bamwine and former solicitor general Peter Kabatsi.
The CJ’s big tasks ahead
KAMPALA. Chief Justice designate Bart Katureebe has vowed to investigate the infights in the Judiciary and reconcile the warring parties. Justice Katureebe says he first heard about the in-fights at the just concluded 17th annual judges’ conference though no names have to date been mentioned.
He added that since he is now the head, he has interested himself in finding out who is fighting who with the aim of reconciling them.
“I also heard about that talk at the judges’ conference but we were not told exactly who was fighting who and for what reason,” said Justice Katureebe from his residence in Bugolobi, a Kampala suburb. He added: “As the head of the Judiciary now, I am going to find out who is fighting who and why so that we may talk to them and counsel them.”
The dangerous trend the Judiciary was taking prompted outgoing Chief Justice Benjamin Odoki to warn the judges attending the conference to stop politicising the Judiciary for their own selfish interests; lest it goes down the drain.
Justice Katureebe spoke tough on corruption that he said has dented the image of the judiciary, adding that during his term, he will do his best to restore the lost confidence in the Judiciary.
He also took a swipe at the general public whom he said tempt judicial officers with bribes before warning the public to stop calling judicial officers with the intention of corrupting them.
“All these are parties to corruption but when society talks about corruption in the Judiciary, they only look at that one angle, the judge or magistrate as the corrupt one but say nothing about that person who offered him the bribe,” the new CJ said.
He added: “I would urge the public to help us solve the bigger problem. Stop trying to influence our judicial officers, stop calling them on phones.”
Compiled by Anthony Wesaka
Chief Justices since Independence
Sir Andley Mckisak 1961-1962
KG Bennet (Ag Chief Justice) 1962-1963
Sir Udo Udoma 1963-1969
Sir Dermont Sheridan 1969-1971
Benedicto Kiwanuka 1971-1972
Samuel Wako Wambuzi 1972-1975
Mohamed Saied 1975-1979
Samuel Wako Wambuzi 1979-1980
George Masika 1980-1985
Peter Allen 1985-1986
Samuel Wako Wambuzi 1986-2001
Benjamin Odoki 2001-2013
Steven Kavuma (Ag Chief Justice)2013-15