New head of judiciary for Uganda

Following the retirement of Uganda’s chief justice, Bart Katureebe, the country’s judiciary has a new leadership team. The new Chief Justice and Deputy Chief Justice were announced by Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni. His official decision came as no surprise as the names had been openly known and discussed for some time before the official announcement. 

Judge Alfonse Owiny Dollo, who had been Deputy Chief Justice under the retired leader, now takes over as Chief Justice of Uganda. The new deputy to Justice Owiny Dollo is a member of the Supreme Court, Judge Richard Buteera.

The new Chief Justice has a number of major challenges facing him. These include the perception of corruption on the bench, a perception greatly increased by the recent US State Department announcement that two Ugandan judges were involved in serious bribery and corruption related to an adoption scam.

One of the two judges has retired, but the other continues to serve on the bench in Uganda.

Commenting on the appointment of Uganda's new judicial leadership team, lawyer Nicholas Opiyo said weeding out corruption was ‘unfinished business’ from the Katureebe period. The previous CJ had taken office and ‘with great gusto’ proceeded to deal with the problem. However, ‘there’s no doubt, as we have seen in the past days, that there is [still] pervasive corruption in the judicial system’ and the CJ had a mandate to deal with it.

A second major challenge faced by the new CJ is an almost universal difficulty resulting from the coronavirus. Efforts to contain the virus have included shutting down the courts, to varying degrees, with many countries opting for the courts to hear only ‘the most urgent cases’. Existing backlogs, already a serious problem, have thus greatly worsened, posing a challenge of monumental proportions for the judiciary throughout the region, including Uganda. 

More particularly, within that growing backlog, there’s concern about appeals related to death penalty cases. Opiyo, said there were ‘hundreds if not thousands’ of people on death row. Their sentences cannot be carried out unless confirmed by the highest appellate court. According to Opiyo people had a great hope that the new Chief Justice would deal with the backlog of such appeals at the Supreme Court.

He said there were an estimated 150 000 cases in Uganda’s backlog, and urged that IT facilities be made available to as many court users as possible. Proper equipment should be provided at every court and for every judicial officer so that the administrative work associated with hearings could be streamlined, he said.