Katureebe leads Chief Justice race
By ruling that President Museveni erred in reappointing Benjamin Odoki as Chief Justice, the Constitutional Court yesterday set in motion in a new process of finding a head for the Judiciary.
In April, President Museveni met members of the Uganda Law Society after the expiry of a 60-day ultimatum they had issued to the head of state to name a new Chief Justice lest they laid down their tools.
In the meeting, the President asked them to be patient and await the ruling of the court on the petition that had been filed by Mr Gerald Karuhanga, contesting the reappointment of Justice Odoki to head the Judiciary.
President Museveni had made the appointment in July, 2013, prompting Mr Karuhanga to appeal a month later.
If Mr Museveni, who promised to abide by the court decision keeps his word, yesterday’s ruling will now mean that he must respect the decision of the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) on who should be the next Chief Justice. “The advice of the JSC is a prerequisite for the appointment of a Chief Justice and an appointment done without the advice from Judicial Service Commission is in contravention of articles; 142 (1), 147 (1) (a) 147 (2) (3) (a) and 253,” ruled Justice Tibatemwa yesterday.
The person most likely to benefit from this ruling will be Supreme Court Justice Bart Katureebe.
Before President Museveni made the decision in July last year to reappoint Justice Odoki, the JSC had recommended Justice Katureebe for the position. It was the single nomination the commission made to the President.
In the July 9, 2013, letter to the JSC chairman, Justice James Ogoola, President Museveni hinted at Justice Katureebe’s abilities although he went ahead to nominate Odoki for the job. He wrote: “This is a good proposal because Justice Katureebe is, indeed, very able according to my layman’s assessment. As you know, he worked as our Attorney General for a number of years.”
It was not clear how the JSC will proceed in light of yesterday’s ruling.
They have the option of resubmitting Justice Katureebe’s name or starting the search for a new Chief Justice afresh. This newspaper could not get to Justice Ogoola for a comment yesterday as his phone was switched off. When contacted, the Permanent Secretary of the JSC, Mr Kagole Kivumbi, referred us to the Attorney General, Mr Peter Nyombi.
In his response to what would be the JSC’s next course of action, Mr Nyombi said he had not read the ruling yet but added: “Everything else will depend on our decision to appeal or not.”
An appeal at the Supreme Court will mean the Judiciary that has not had a head for the last 16 months could stay in the same situation for some more time.
Presidential Press Secretary Tamale Mirundi yesterday said his boss would abide by the ruling.
However, former Uganda Law Society secretary general Nicholas Opiyo said President Museveni picked his lessons from the 2001 and 2006 Kizza Besigye election petitions in which the Supreme Court came very close to annulling his disputed election victories. “This is the reason he is very careful on who becomes the next Chief Justice and preferred Odoki. But how far can he go?” asked Mr Opio.
If Justice Katureebe is not two-time lucky, credible sources in the Judiciary say other contenders for the job will be Principal Judge Yorokamu Bamwine, Justice Engonda Ntende and former Director of Public Prosecutions Peter Kabatsi. These, according to the source, were those who made it to the final list of candidates together with Justice Katureebe.
Top candidates for Chief Justice position
Justice Bart Katureebe. The 64-year-old Justice of the Supreme Court had been proposed by the JSC as Justice Odoki’s successor but the President ignored the proposal.
Justice Yorokamu Bamwine. He is the Principal Judge (PJ). He rose steadily from the position of Grade One Magistrate in 1983 to High Court Judge in 1998 before being named PJ in 2010.
Mr Peter Kabatsi. Together with Bart Katureebe, he founded Kampala Associated Advocates. He served as Director of Public Prosecutions and Solicitor General. He is in private practice.
Justice Tibatemwa. “Under the 1995 Constitution, a Chief Justice who has vacated office by reason of having attained the mandatory age of retirement is not eligible for reappointment as Chief Justice.”
Justice Kasule. “…JSC rendered advice to the President that the Hon retired Chief Justice Benjamin Odoki, having attained the retirement age of 70 years, was no longer eligible for appointment as CJ.
Justice Bbosa. “It becomes crystal clear that one of the conditions that a nominee for the appointment of the Chief Justice must fulfil is that he/she should not be above 70 years.”
Justice Mwangusya. “My conclusion would be that a retired Chief Justice is not eligible for the reappointment under Article 253… The advise of the Judicial Service Commission is a prerequisite.”
Justice Aweri-Opio. “In conclusion therefore, I find that Article 142 and 144 were intended to safeguard terms and tenure of justices. Article 253 was intended to maximise the services of the officers.”