A number of respected senior judges around the region end their terms of office this year. The most recent of them is Uganda’s Chief Justice, Bart Katureebe who retired on 20 June, 2020.
He has had a career of astonishingly wide and varied experience. He served in government’s executive arm as minister and deputy minister, holding a variety of portfolios including that of Minister of Justice. He was also an ‘ordinary’ member of parliament, and in that capacity was part of the assembly that drew up Uganda’s 1995 constitution.
In private practice he helped head up one of the most prominent law firms in Kampala and served on the boards of a number of major companies. Then he went back to government, this time as a member of the judicial branch, first as a judge of the Supreme Court and then as Chief Justice.
His appointment as Chief Justice ended a two-year hiatus during which Uganda had no official judicial leader.
Among the judicial innovations for which he will be remembered is his introduction of an electronic case management system and, as his last gift to the judiciary and to Uganda, the Administration of the Judiciary Act. Signed into effect by President Yoweri Museveni the day before the retirement of the Chief Justice, this law aims to strengthen judicial independence by ‘streamlining the provision and management of funds for the judiciary’. It further establishes a Judiciary Council that will advise the Chief Justice on the administration of the judiciary and justice.
Among the many international bodies with which he was associated, he was a founding member of the Standing International Forum of Commercial Courts. In the tribute paid to him by that organisation, SIFoCC said he had always championed collaboration between judiciaries, the importance of training and case management and the sharing of best practice between courts.
Despite his strong commitment to electronic case management as a way of dealing with the serious backlog of cases in the Ugandan courts, there has not yet been the kind of significant results that he would have wished as part of his legacy.
On his immediate plans, the now former Chief Justice said that he would not be ‘hanging around’ for long, but needed to be available for the next three months while his colleagues finalised decisions in cases where he formed part of the bench. ‘And then I will go to my village,’ he said.