judicial independence

Landmark Ugandan decision highlights judicial accountability

TWO crucial judicial principles, independence and accountability, have clashed with each other in a landmark judgment by Uganda’s highest court. Unusually, the case produced seven separate decisions, one a dissenting judgment – and it has also sparked strong criticism from outside the court. The case concerned the right of the judicial disciplinary body to charge a registrar, someone who exercises judicial powers in Uganda, with misconduct in relation to an action she took in the course of her judicial duties.

The case begins in 2009 when deputy registrar Dr Gladys Kisekka issued a warrant for the attachment of certain property following a default judgment. A few months later she received a letter from a law firm, protesting that some of the land scheduled for attachment belonged to their client, and not to the judgment debtor in the case.

Kisekka immediately recalled the warrant in respect of the disputed property and copied her letter recalling the warrant to all the parties.

PEN Report: Criminal Defamation is Used to Stifle Dissent in Africa

JUDICIAL independence and media freedom are usually linked. In countries where judges feel unacceptable levels of government pressure it is probable that journalists will be experiencing the same thing.

As far as journalists are concerned, criminal defamation is a serious problem hampering the media and undermining the watchdog role of journalists in many African countries. Typically, criminal defamation is used by political and business leaders in particular, to prevent journalists from investigating and writing about personal corruption, corruption in government departments or corruption in business.

Ugandan Judge Sues Attorney-General

IN the struggle to ensure judicial independence judges sometimes have to take extraordinary steps. Over the last six months however none can have been more unusual than the litigation by Ugandan high court judge Joseph Murangira, which saw the judge suing Uganda’s attorney-general.

The case, heard in the country’s constitutional court, came out of a settlement order finalized by the judge. One of the parties to that dispute was a government department, and when the agreed amount was due to be paid, the Public Accounts Committee of parliament ordered the judge to appear before it and justify his decision. When he refused to do so the parliamentary committee made a report against him that was adopted by parliament, “purporting to veto” his decision in the high court.

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