By Gad Masereka
Following the official retirement of its five judges and eight lower cadre members, including Deputy Registrars and Magistrates, the judiciary is on track to experience yet another understaffing gap.
Justice Ezekiel Muhanguzi of the Supreme Court, Judges of the High Court, Lady Justice Jane Kiggundu, Justice Joseph Murangira, and Justice Tonny Vincent Okwanga were among the judges who were formally retired from the judiciary on Friday evening at a dinner held at the Judiciary headquarters.
Along with them, Deputy Registrars Sarah Ponye and Ayo Miriam Eddy Okello retired.
As well as them, there was Chief Magistrate Moses Baligeya Mufumbiro, Grade One Magistrate Fred Gidudu, and Grade Two Magistrates Tusiime Anania, Edephonese Rutajegwa, and Francis Ojikhan.
The group, who retired along with 36 administrative employees, had worked in the judiciary for more than 20 years. They received honors and awards for their outstanding contributions to the judicial system.
Deputy Chief Justice Richard Buteera thanked them during his speech at the banquet for always respecting their work while they were still in the judiciary, despite going through difficult circumstances.
He advised them to record their experiences and legal reasoning in autobiographies so that the following generation might read them for guidance.
That will enable the judiciary to access and profit from the experiences and knowledge, in Buteera’s opinion.
Butera recalls how challenging it was when he and other others joined the underfunded judiciary. He gave the example of a time when he was handed two reams of paper and asked to return one to be delivered to Kasese-born Justice Kiiza Akiiki while traveling to Soroti.
Buteera went on to recount what he called a bad experience he had while working at Mengo Court: boarding cabs with the accused, sometimes being denied bail because they recognize each other in the same taxi.
He recalled Justice Okwanga as a State Attorney who once tried 400 persons in a single day. Buteera wants the stories and experiences of the retiring judicial officers to be recorded so that people won’t assume they are made up.
He disclosed that the judiciary is encouraging ADR techniques like mediation, arbitration, reconciliation, plea bargains, and diversion in juvenile justice as part of its transformation goal.
Noting that those mechanisms would require seasoned professionals with respect from society, the retirees were urged to pursue training in those fields so they could continue to contribute to the systems even after retirement.
When handling the matters that were before them, Justice Asaph Ruhindi urged the judges to maintain their composure and emphasized that they were being judged by the same people.
He requested that they continue to collaborate with the Judiciary even after he retired. However, he expressed disappointment that the Permanent Secretary was unable to sign the necessary paperwork on his behalf when he needed a recommendation for a visa to travel abroad.
Lawrence Opolot Okim, a driver who was also retiring, requested that the judiciary reinstate their insurance coverage, claiming that they are finding it difficult to pay their medical expenditures now that they are retired.
When they retired, he claimed, the insurance instantly lapsed.
While Supreme Court Justices retire at age 70, High Court Judges can begin their retirement at age 65.
Alfonse Owiny-Dollo, the Chief Justice, has urged the government to raise the retirement age by an additional five years.