My highs, lows as Uganda Law Society president

Describe how your stay at the helm of ULS has been like
Leading a bar association with a unique mandate in the present time brings out all in you and in my case it has been two years of great challenges and progress at both an individual and professional level.

In an interview with this newspaper shortly after taking on this noble office two years ago, you pledged to deliver on three objectives; to enhance the respect/brand of the ULS among the stake holders as a defender of Rule of Law, 2) to build a harmonious and inclusive society by strengthening the bridge between the senior lawyers and the young ones and lastly 3) to strengthen the ULS leadership structures, secretariat and the regional offices. How would you rate your performance?
To a large extent these objectives have been achieved. The ULS adopted a more proactive approach in informing the rule of law agenda in our country. During our tenure we focused on providing leadership and mobilised the legal profession to promote and defend the rule of law, constitutionalism, good governance, human rights and access to justice.
The council participated in opening up rule of law clubs in schools and universities; we launched the quarterly rule of law report that is being used by stakeholders as an authoritative reference in regard to rule of law issues.
The council also worked to address membership issues. We followed and acted on our pledge of reviewing and updating the Advocates Remuneration and Taxation Costs Regulations since 1996. We also introduced clusters of ULS members to ensure that ULS members congregate around areas of their speciality and interest. Through the clusters, we have scaled our contribution to Parliament by sharing our views on any proposed legislation.
Mentorship programmes were introduced with a view of bridging the gap between young and senior lawyers. Cost-friendly packages were introduced for the benefit of the young lawyers and several new programmes to turn the continuous learning programmes into great learning platforms for lawyers.
We have also improved communications by having a strong social media presence and an active communication platform.
Following the launch of the strategic plan, the council embarked on restructuring the secretariat and we appointed a new CEO, Joyce Nalunga Birumumaaso, to lead the efforts to implement the new strategic plan. We are optimistic that the new leadership backed up by a facilitative good corporate governance framework and the necessary policies will go a notch higher in performance and coordination.

What challenges did you encounter during your tenure?
Human rights violations have been on the increase in the recent past with several unresolved kidnappings, tortures and murders for citizens. More than 28 cases of such murders remain unresolved. These violations have also been facilitated by State agencies, with little or no effort at all on the part of government to bring the perpetuators to book.
Despite the improvement in the funding of the secretariat from what I inherited at the start of my tenure, the funding of the secretariat remains a challenge to date.
Limited subscriptions from the young lawyers: Given the terms of service for young lawyers, the subscription from this category is still minimal.
Quack and unethical lawyers: The number of quack and unethical lawyers on the market remains a challenge to the legal profession. I hope this is one of the areas that the upcoming executive will take interest in.

The Constitutional Court has decided to hear the consolidated age limit petitions in the far eastern district of Mbale amid protests from lawyers of the petitioners. ULS is one of the petitioners. What do you make of this change in venue?
We discussed this matter with our lawyers and decided to stick to the substance of the matter. We will appear to argue our case as long as it is in Uganda. Of course, this comes with some logistical challenges for the parties involved, but we will address our concerns with the leadership of the Court at the appropriate time. First things first.

The Judicial Service Commission (JSC) has come out to declare that they will no longer pursue the several complaints that had been registered against former Deputy Chief Justice Steven Kavuma on grounds that he has since left the service and that if he was to be found culpable, it would be hard to have him reprimanded. What is your take on this decision?
The aim of the judicial disciplinary process is to bring to book any errant serving officers through various reprimands. Majority of the penalties available for errant judicial officers once found culpable are only relevant while the officer is still in office. To prosecute the Deputy Chief Justice when he has already retired may thus prove to be a futile process if at the end of the day there won’t be a penalty. However, matters to do with the retired Deputy Chief Justice are far from over.

Gimara’s take on key issues

Views on the Judiciary
I have mixed views about the Judiciary and I have on several fronts engaged with the leadership of the Judiciary and in my view they mean well. Several initiatives such as the plea bargaining scheme, case backlog strategy, civil review reform process , performance measurement tool, the ICT strategy implementation etc. have been introduced to reform the Judiciary to enable it perform deliver more effectively on its mandate.
However, the Judiciary, just like other institutions, is slowly going through a process of capture by the heavy hand of the Executive through the control of its resources, and lately by having a very deep hand in the appointments of judicial officers.
We are increasingly seeing a group of judges who owe their appointment to the Executive as opposed to their individual competencies.
Having said that, the Judiciary still has some very good judicial officers.

Regrettable decisions you took during your tenure?
None at all. Most of my decisions are based on values and principles I cherish and if the decision does not fit within the box, then I will not make that decision.
The only regrets I have are the things that I have not been able to do due to time constraint such as more visitation to law firms, particularly the upcoming and struggling law firms. Setting up of a Young Lawyers Innovation Centre to position the young lawyers for the Shs3 billion legal outsourcing market and building a modern ULS building that will be home to the proposed arbitration centre.

On legacy as ULS president
Building on the work of my predecessors, I think we have touched every button in ULS and the result is that we are leaving a more vibrant society that is now more relevant to the key stakeholders. I hope and pray that the upcoming executive will build on the current achievements and they will as well take the society a set higher.

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