In light of the ongoing controversy surrounding a directive from Principal Judge Flavian Zeija concerning Hon. Justice Stephen Mubiru’s work in the Commercial High Court, the Judiciary has taken prompt action to clarify the context and intentions behind the communication.
Amidst growing concerns, the Judiciary moved to shed light on the intricacies of the situation, aiming to offer a comprehensive understanding of the events in question.
Earlier this month, the Principal Judge authored a letter titled “Completion of Pending Judgments and Rulings before Proceeding with Further Cases at the High Court Commercial Division.” This correspondence was directed to Justice Mubiru, expressing dissatisfaction with the judge’s approach to duty, which, according to the head of the court, contributed to a significant rise in pending cases, leading to a backlog.
“As of November 22, 2023, your lordship had 170 pending judgments and rulings. This number constitutes the biggest number of judgments and rulings pending before a single Judge at the High Court Level. The majority of those judgments and rulings have been pending before you for unreasonably long periods, contrary to Principle 6.2 of the Judicial Code of Conduct,” Zeija added.
In that same letter, Justice Zeija explicitly directed that Justice Mubiru should refrain from presiding over any cases or receiving new case files until an official report, confirming the completion and delivery of all pending judgments and rulings, is submitted to the office.
“Your allocated workload at the High Court Commercial Division is effective December 05, 2023, restricted to only pending judgments and rulings. You are directed to write and deliver all pending judgements and rulings within sixty days effective December 05, 2023. During this period, you are further directed not to hear any case or be allocated any new files, until a satisfactory report has been availed to this office indicating that you have written and delivered all pending judgments and rulings,” he said in the letter.
Nevertheless, the letter was perceived by several observers as an affront by Justice Zeija to Justice Mubiru, as there appeared to be no legal basis for allowing him to terminate a judge’s work.
In a letter by Uganda Law Society by President Bernard Oundo to the Principal Judge said; “The Judicature Act (Cap. 13), does not in any way empower your office to constrain any judge from hearing cases. Section 20 you have cited, only empowers your office on distribution of business in the High Court. It does not empower your office to direct how a judge handles his docket, and in particular to refrain from hearing cases already assigned to a judge.”
From this standpoint, the Judiciary, in the press release issued on the evening of December 9th, clarified that an administrative communication directed to Justice Stephen Mubiru by the Hon. Principal Judge was misconstrued and misinterpreted by the public, potentially including the Uganda Law Society.
According to the Judiciary, the said letter was a result of resolutions and recommendations arrived at during the Ninth Quarterly Performance Retreat for Judges of the High Court who head High Court Circuits and Divisions, with members of the Case Backlog Committee, held between November 23 – 24, 2023 which Hon. Justice Stephen Mubiru, Head Commercial Division attended.
One of the resolutions at the Retreat was that the Hon. Principal Judge write to all Judges with pending backlog judgements and rulings to suspend taking on any new matters until the disposal of backlogged judgements with clear time frames for delivery of the pending decisions.
As a result, the write-up was issued on the 01st December 2023 to all Judges with cases falling in that category and no specific judicial officer was targeted as it is being interpreted.
“We reassure all our stakeholders that the Judiciary is committed to efficiently and effectively administering justice to all promptly in line with the Constitution and the Judicial Code of Conduct, and it is the spirit under which the letter to all concerned judges was issued. Furthermore, we assure stakeholders including the general public that there is no infighting in the Judiciary. We implore you to remain calm as the Judiciary strives to fulfil its constitutional mandate,” reads part of the press release.