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Long wait for justice draws to a close as Summit set to appoint judges

Tuesday February 23 2021
East African Court of Justice.

East African Court of Justice in a past session in Arusha, Tanzania. East African Community Heads of State meet to appoint judges this week. PHOTO | FILE

By LUKE ANAMI

The vacancies at the East African Court of Justice could soon be filled as the EAC Heads of State meet to appoint judges this week.

Court activity at the EACJ has been paralysed since November 2020, following the expiry of the tenure of seven judges out of 11 who are required to fully operationalise court proceedings.

The court consists of a First Division and Appellate Division on which judges recommended by partner states appointed by the EAC Heads of State Summit make up the respective benches.

The terms for both the president and deputy judges for the court have since expired.

This is because the Summit, which is the appointing authority, did not carry out its noble duty following their inability to convene since 2018.

“The shortlisting has already been carried out. We expect the Summit to appoint judges in their next meeting scheduled at the end of February 2021,” said Prof Manasseh Nshuti, Rwanda’s Minister of State for the EAC Affairs and chairperson Council of Ministers.

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The term of Justice Dr E. Ugirashebuja, who is the president of the Appellate Division, ended on November 30, 2020. The Appellate Division judges, the Vice President Justice Liboire Nkurunziza and Justice Aaron Ringera ended their tours of duty at the Court on June 20 and of June 26, 2020 respectively.

Kenya is expected to nominate a judge from either the Supreme Court or the Court of Appeal to replace Justice Ringera.  However, at the Supreme Court, only Justice Njoki Ndung’u has expressed interest while Justice Isaac Lenaola has served the EACJ before.

There are two judges currently at the Appellate court; Lady Justice Sauda Mjasiri from Tanzania and Justice Geoffrey Kiryabwire of Uganda, who is currently serving in the Appellate division as the Vice President of EACJ.

The EastAfrican has learnt that since Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and Rwanda have held the position of the president of the EACJ before, it is now the turn of either Burundi or South Sudan. It is now the turn of Tanzania

Among the front runners for the EACJ presidency is Burundi’s Nestor Kayobera.

Mr Kayobera is the Director of Judicial Organisation in the Ministry of Justice, and recently represented the Burundi’s Chief Justice in an appeal matter challenging the election of the Speaker of EALA.

Composition

The EACJ has 11 judges and pursuant to Article 24 of the Treaty this number can be increased to a maximum of 15 Judges. Judges serve a seven-year non-renewable term subject to retirement age of 70 years. Currently there are only two judges in the appellate division against the required five.

There are only three judges currently of the first instance against the required six and without a deputy principal judge. None of the three judges is either a principal judge or a deputy, which is against the treaty.

The tenure of Uganda’s Justice Monica Mugenyi, the Principal Judge at the First Instance Division, ended on Novembe 30, 2020.

The First Instance Division had 50 cases pending before it at the end of financial year 2017-2018. The cases have gone up to 66 at the end of 2019 financial year. 

The Summit is expected to designate two judges of the First Instance Division as the principal judge and the deputy principal judge respectively.

The East African Court of Justice is one of the organs of the East African Community established under Article 9 of the Treaty for the Establishment of the East African Community.

Among the major responsibilities of the court is to ensure the adherence to law in the interpretation and application of and compliance with the Treaty.

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