The trial of 14 top Muslim leaders on murder charges could run into jeopardy following the retirement of the lead judge Ezekiel Muhanguzi midway the proceedings.
Justice Muhanguzi has been the lead judge in the trial of the 14 suspects, including head of the Tabliq Sect Sheikh Yunus Kamoga, who are accused of masterminding chain killings of rival Muslim leaders in the country about two years ago.
Daily Monitor accessed information from the Judiciary’s human resource office indicating that Justice Muhanguzi retired on February 12 upon turning 65 years, the mandatory retirement age for High Court judges. The two remaining judges on the panel are Jane Kiggundu and Percy Tuhaise.
However, the law gives a retired judge three extra months to clear any pending work at his/her desk before leaving office.
This means that the remaining part of the trial and writing of the judgment have to be done by May 12, if his proceedings are to be incontestable.
However, observers have expressed fear that since the trial is still far from conclusion, the three additional months may not be enough for Justice Muhanguzi to conclude the proceedings and delivering the verdict.
To that effect, there is fear that the proceedings that could be presided over by the retired judge could be challenged before the Constitutional Court to be declared null and void.
Speaking to Daily Monitor last Friday, Principal Judge Yorokamu Bamwine who is the administrative head of the High Court and the lower courts said Article 144 (1) of the Constitution allows a retired judicial officer three more months to clear any pending judicial work at their desk.
He added that whatever happens after those three months, the Judiciary is ready to handle the situation and that challenges should be left to them. “The concerned people you are talking about may not be aware of the full import of Article 144 (1) of the Constitution.” Justice Bamwine said.
He added: “Under this law, a judicial officer may continue in office after attaining the age at which he/she is required to vacate office for a period not exceeding three months necessary to enable him/her complete any pending work. What happens after those three months, leave that to us…”
The Director of Public Prosecutions Mike Chibita is equally concerned about the retirement of Justice Muhanguzi half- way the trial.