The issue: Recruiting judges
Our view: The timely recruitment exercise and appointment of the new judicial officers will in turn help to tackle the monster of case backlog in the Judiciary head-on.
At least four senior judges of the High Court, including the Principal Judge, Yorokamu Bamwine, its administrative head, are set to retire this year.
In the same vein, five other judicial officers from the lower Bench are also set to retire. This means that the staffing gap that will be left by the retiring judicial officers will be huge.
Unless the Judicial Service Commission (JSC), a government body that is mandated to recruit and discipline errant judicial officers, recruits suitable successors in time, more pressure will be piled on the already understaffed Judiciary.
About six years ago, the country was nearly plunged into a constitutional crisis after the Judiciary went without a substantive Chief Justice and deputy for about two years. This was after then Chief Justice Benjamin Odoki had clocked the retirement age and the then JSC led by Justice James Ogoola, was engaging in pull and push feat with the Executive over the issue of whether to have the retired jurist bounce back as Chief Justice.
But the new JSC leadership led by Justice Benjamin Kabiito, has done well by recruiting suitable candidates in time to fill up any vacant positions in the Judiciary. An example of such timely action was when they in record time recruited the current deputy Chief Justice, Alfonse Owiny-Dollo, to replace then retiring DCJ Steven Kavuma.
Therefore, we urge the Kabiito JSC-led Commission to also swiftly carry out its constitutional mandate and recruit the suitable candidates to fill the soon-to-be existing judicial positions, especially that of the Principal Judge. The Principal Judge is the third most important officer in the Judiciary hierarchy after the Chief Justice and Deputy Chief Justice.
We also appeal to President Museveni to also perform his constitutional duty of picking candidate/s from the list that the JSC will forward to him for appointment. This is because we have seen previous scenarios where the JSC plays its constitutional mandate of recruiting suitable candidates to fill existing staffing gaps and forwards the list to the President to pick the suitable replacement/s from, but the process is delayed at this stage for some time.
The timely recruitment exercise and appointment of the new judicial officers will in turn help to tackle the monster of case backlog in the Judiciary head-on.
According to the 2015 Judiciary file census, the case backlog was standing at 37,827, which was an alarming figure. This means that every judge should at least hear about 1,500 cases annually, which is a hard task given that they usually handle about 300 cases.
The retirement of four senior judges will mean that the total number of remaining justices will be 47, yet the recently approved staffing structure by Parliament is 82 judges.