The Constitutional Court has ruled that the judiciary should be independent and should have its own self-accounting status just like the two other arms of government.
In 2018, lawyers under their professional body, the Uganda Law Society (ULS), have sued government for failure to provide an enabling environment to the Judiciary to have its own self-accounting status like other two arms of government.
The lawyers argued that the independence of the judiciary is provided for under Article 128 (1) of the Constitution demands that in exercise of their judicial power, courts shall not be subject to the control of any person or authority.
On Wednesday, a panel of five justices including Kenneth Kakuru, Geoffrey Kiryabwire, Cheborion Barishaki, Ezekiel Muhanguzi and Stephen Musota ruled that it was a contravention of the Constitution for government not to implement the autonomous status of the judiciary.
“The failure by the executive and parliament to take steps in a reasonable time to enact a law to implement the judiciary’s autonomy contravenes articles 8A and National Objective and Directive Principles of State Policy VIII and Article 128(3) of the 1995 Constitution,” said Justice Barishaki who wrote the lead judgment.
Quoting the Public Finance Management Act, 2015, Uganda Law Society told court in its petition that it is wrong for the Secretary to the Treasury to have powers to the effect that he issues directives to all accounting officers but includes the self-accounting institutions like the judiciary in the same category.
In their judgment, the justices of the Constitutional court reasoned with the lawyers’ body saying the practice is illegal since it undermines the judiciary’s independence.
In the petition, the lawyers’ body told court that it is unconstitutional for the Justice Minister to annually approve the budgetary framework of the judiciary yet it is an independent arm of government.
The court reasoned with the petitioners saying it is wrong for government to take the judiciary as a mere department under the Ministry of Justice during the budgetary process.
“The judiciary as an arm of government is supposed to take control of its budgetary processes without any interference from the executive. The executive’s role is to forward the judiciary’s budgetary estimates to parliament for consideration,” the judges ruled.
The court also ruled that the role of Permanent Secretary ought not to have extended to the judiciary since the Chief Justice is the accounting officer of the third arm of government.
The judges said that the Permanent Secretary ought to report to the Chief Justice and not to the executive arm of government as is the case currently.
“The allocation of inadequate resources to the judiciary is inconsistent with and in contravention of the Constitution,” the Constitutional Court ruled.