Uganda's Museveni orders Chief Justice's term extended
Uganda President Yoweri Museveni has directed the country's Judicial Service Commission to extend Chief Justice Benjamin Odoki’s contract by two years, sparking strong criticism from lawyers who termed the directive illegal and dangerous.
Justice Odoki, who had served as chief justice for 12 years, reached the mandatory retirement age of 70 years in March. He also served out a three-month extension period.
However, it now looks like the debate on who will succeed him is premature since President Museveni has instructed Justice James Ogoola, who heads the JSC, to extend Justice Odoki’s contract "in order to maximise the services of our human resource".
In a July 9 letter to Justice Ogoola, President Museveni indicated that he had received the commission’s proposal to appoint Justice Bart Katureebe as the new chief justice.
About Justice Katureebe, the President notes: “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.”
After praising Justice Katureebe’s credentials, the President refers to another letter Justice Ogoola had sent him, in which the commission had proposed that Justice Odoki and other retiring justices of the Supreme Court be requested to stay as acting justices for two years.
But rather than stay as an acting justice, President Museveni indicates that Justice Odoki be retained as chief justice.
He wrote: “Accordingly, it is my decision that for those two years, His Lordship Justice Benjamin Odoki should continue to be the Chief Justice… Therefore, send the appropriate instruments of appointment for my signature.”
The President had earlier sought guidance from the commission on whether Justice Odoki and four other justices, who were retiring could be retained for two years. In a June 26 letter, the commission responded in the affirmative.
It was on the basis of this response that the President made the directive. While the Supreme Court quorum should be 11, currently there are six justices excluding acting Chief Justice Steven Kavuma.
Justice Ogoola was reportedly out of the country and could not be reached for comment but Justice Odoki expressed ignorance about the developments.
“I haven’t been around but I came over the weekend and I know nothing. However, if it is true, thank you very much for breaking good news to me,” he said.
The secretary general of the Uganda Law Society, Mr Nicholas Opiyo, said whereas Justice Odoki may qualify for the job, his reappointment was illegal, unconstitutional and dangerous.
A former president of the law society, Mr Andrew Kasirye, said Justice Odoki could not be eligible for reappointment having retired from judicial service.
Mr Kasirye said the move should have happened while he was still active, adding that it would also require a constitutional amendment to keep him since he is past retirement age.
The lawyer dismissed the President’s claim that there was scarcity of legal brains, pointing an accusing finger at the Attorney General, Mr Peter Nyombi.
“I think the current Attorney General has misled the President. It is JSC to initiate the process of whether to retain a judge or not but not Attorney General.”
But Mr Nyombi denied he had a hand in the reappointment. “Where does he (Kasirye) get that information? He should talk with facts and without that he sounds irrelevant. My initial advice to JSC was in regards to deputy chief justice and that was way back before this issue of chief justice,” he said.
In April, Justice Odoki wrote a concept paper, making a case for raising the retirement age for High Court judges from 65 to 70 and Supreme Court to from 70-75.