By The Insight Post Uganda
Supreme Court Justice Dr. Esther Kitimbo Kisaakye has made a surprising announcement by retiring from the Ugandan judiciary seven years earlier than the customary retirement age for Supreme Court justices.
Her early retirement comes amid a backdrop of legal disputes, administrative challenges, and reported frustrations within the judiciary.
In a letter dated July 18, addressed to President Yoweri Museveni, Justice Kisaakye communicated her decision to retire prematurely. She began her letter by acknowledging President Museveni’s appointment of her as a justice of the Supreme Court on October 12, 2009.
At the time of writing her retirement letter, Justice Kisaakye had dedicated an impressive 13 years and 10 months to serving on the Supreme Court.
Justice Kisaakye invoked Article 144 (1) of the Constitution of Uganda as the basis for her early retirement. This article permits judicial officers to retire at any point after reaching the age of sixty years.
At the time of her retirement request, Justice Kisaakye had surpassed this age threshold, having reached 63 years. In accordance with this constitutional provision, she formally tendered her early retirement from the Supreme Court.
In her retirement letter, Kisaakye expressed her gratitude to President Museveni and the people of Uganda for the opportunity to serve her country as a justice of the Supreme Court. Her decision to retire seven years ahead of the customary retirement age for Supreme Court justices raised questions and stirred curiosity.
Justice Kisaakye’s early retirement unfolds against the backdrop of reported frustrations and challenges she encountered during her tenure within the judiciary, particularly with the top management of the institution.
Ordinarily, Supreme Court justices in Uganda retire upon reaching the age of 70, making her early departure a noteworthy departure from tradition.
In 2022, Justice Kisaakye took legal action against prominent administrators within the judiciary, including Chief Justice Owiny-Dollo, Permanent Secretary Pius Bigirimana, Chief Registrar Sarah Langa, Commissioner Human Resource Apophia Tumwine, and the Judicial Service Commission. Significantly, the Attorney General was also named as a respondent in her legal action.
Her lawsuit, filed in the Constitutional Court, was multifaceted and encompassed a wide range of grievances. Among her requests, she sought 24 orders and numerous declarations.
Notably, she aimed to have a record indicating her absence without official leave quashed, regain her position as the administrative head of the Supreme Court, and be assigned duties in line with her role.
Justice Kisaakye’s petition outlined a series of events that she believed had led to her frustrations and decision to take legal action. The timeline began on March 18, 2021, following her involvement in the presidential election petition filed by Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu against Mr. Museveni.
Some of the allegations included the confiscation of her case file, the temporary closure of the Supreme Court on orders from the Chief Justice and the government, the issuance of a defamatory press statement, and the denial of funds for her medical treatment.
In addition to these issues, her petition cited various other concerns, such as the failure to adhere to seniority at the Supreme Court, secretive investigations against her, denial of leave, the Chief Justice’s refusal to allocate her work, and various administrative disputes.
The Attorney General, responding on behalf of the respondents, argued that Justice Kisaakye’s petition lacked merit and was legally flawed.
Chief Justice Owiny-Dollo, in an affidavit, contended that the dispute originated from her insistence on delivering her rulings without sharing them with other members of the judicial panel, as was the customary practice.
Despite the ongoing legal dispute between Kisaakye and the top administrators of the judiciary, the case has made limited progress in the Constitutional Court. Some members of the Uganda Law Society have proposed alternative dispute resolution mechanisms, suggesting that both parties should seek to resolve their issues through mediation rather than through the judicial process.
It is worth noting that she had previously expressed a strong interest in becoming the Chief Justice of Uganda upon the retirement of Bart Katureebe, the previous Chief Justice. Traditionally, the appointing authority in Uganda selects the most senior judge in the Supreme Court to fill the position of Chief Justice.
However, when Bart Katureebe retired, President Museveni chose to elevate Deputy Chief Justice Owiny-Dollo from the lower court, the Court of Appeal/Constitutional Court, to the Supreme Court and appointed him as the Chief Justice.
This decision, some sources suggest, may have contributed to Justice Kisaakye’s decision to retire prematurely.