Occupy strategic positions in the judiciary – Langa

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What prompted you to study law?

I don’t know what prompted me to study law, but I remember that even as a student, I always acted as a lawyer in school plays. I knew from the popular narrative that lawyers were intellectuals, that they were intelligent and that they got enough income from their work.

However, my peers convinced me not to apply for Law because it was presumed to be a ‘difficult course’ and instead I was admitted to Makerere University for a different course. When my sister who was my godmother learned that I had chosen another course, she intervened and insisted that I change courses and go to law school.

I joined Makerere University Law School in 1999 and it turned out to be one of the best decisions I have ever made in my life.

During your 17 years of career as a judicial officer, what is your experience in dealing with cases involving personalities?

In judging cases, the guiding principle has been to uphold the judicial oath I took upon my appointment: To administer justice to all without fear, favour, ill will or affection.

I worked both in Kampala and in stations in the interior of the country. I have heard cases, written judgments or decisions and rendered them. Sometimes this involves a conviction, which can result in the convict being sent to prison.

I have handled many low-profile and high-profile cases, especially during my seven years at the Anti-Corruption Tribunal, where I was one of the pioneering magistrates.

There, I managed the pre-commission processes of high-profile cases such as the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) case involving former Vice President Gilbert Bukenya; the bicycle scam involving John Kashaka Muhanguzi, former Permanent Secretary and other senior officials in the Ministry of Local Government.

I also handled the retirement scam involving Mr. Jimmy Lwamafa, then Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Civil Service and other officers of that ministry.

Langa (right) is the first female Chief Registrar in Uganda to assist the Chief Justice in swearing in the President. PHOTO/courtesy.

These were high profile cases considering the personalities and sums of money involved. Not surprisingly, these cases have attracted public and media attention, both locally and internationally.

The number of lawyers in these cases was equally large as they involved some of the big names in the city. Many people wondered how I was going to handle these unprecedented cases.

But the nature of the cases has never been a problem for me. Whether dealing with high profile or low profile cases, it is absolutely essential for a judicial officer to abide by the judicial oath, adhere to the code of judicial conduct, not accept bribes and to know that God is the ultimate supervisor who not only sees everything we do, but also guides us when we ask him.

What challenges have you encountered as Chief Registrar?

The office of the chief clerk is demanding. It is the technical office of the judiciary which comes fourth in the administrative hierarchy and is directly responsible for supervising the lower judiciary. He is responsible for the implementation of all judicial activities of the strategic plan and policies of the Chief Justice, Associate Chief Justice and Senior Justice.

In addition, it is responsible for the supervision of all clerks and magistrates in the country, whose number currently stands at 378. The office is also the mouthpiece of the judiciary. These multiple tasks mean a busy work schedule.

But I am constantly reminded that I wanted this position and therefore have to work up to the expectations of my supervisors. Effective delegation has also been a great strategy for me.

I also have the privilege of being part of a very supportive leadership that includes the Chief Justice, Associate Chief Justice, Senior Justice and Judicial Secretary and Clerks.

The work I do also involves implementing difficult decisions, such as taking disciplinary action against colleagues, for example, bans, transfers and deployments.

But I realized that such decisions can be communicated with empathy. Advice and a listening ear are very important. So, I bring support, encouragement and comfort.

In addition to my professional role, I am a wife, a mother, a sister, a friend, a member of a church. These roles are equally demanding. Luckily, I have a supportive husband and family. My husband often reminds me that he released me to serve this country, and I find that so reassuring.

I have since learned that I may not be able to balance work and life 50-50, but the important thing is to make sure my family understands me.

It is essential to know the expectations of the family and to integrate them into the work. All in all, it takes resilience, courage, wisdom and the grace of God.

It seems difficult. Did you record any highs?

My appointment as the youngest Chief Registrar of the Judiciary at age 40 is one of the highlights of my career. On May 12 last year, I was honored to be appointed the first female Chief Registrar in Uganda to assist the Chief Justice in swearing in the President. The role of the chief clerk in such a ceremony is very critical. The chief clerk presents the Bible and the oath of allegiance to the president-elect and he takes the oath.

The same procedure is followed for taking the oath. After which, the Chief Clerk guides both the President-Elect and the Chief Justice on where to sign the Oath of Allegiance and the Oath of Office. Thereafter, the chief clerk presents the instruments of power to the chief justice, who in turn presents them to the president.

The instruments of power are the Constitution; the national flag; the presidential standard flag; the National anthem; the National Court of Arms and the public seal. I am also privileged to be part of the pioneering leadership team – the only woman among the five-member team – driving the judiciary transformation agenda.

Following the enactment of the Judiciary Administration Act 2020, the Judiciary acquired its identity and status as a branch of government and not as a department under the Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs.

What achievements have been recorded by the judiciary so far?

An expanded judicial structure that will see the coverage of courts expand widely across the country; improved budget allowing for more court sessions as we work to clear the backlog of cases. I am hopeful that we will achieve the Chief Justice’s vision of speedy justice and reduce the backlog from 24 months to 12 months.

Another high point in my career was in 2009, when I was appointed as a pioneer magistrate in the then newly created anti-corruption division. I was one of three magistrates assigned to this Court and became the most senior judicial officer among my cohorts in the Anti-Corruption Division, serving there for seven years and rising through the ranks to become Chief Magistrate and Deputy Registrar. Receiving the Chief Justice’s Award for Outstanding Performance while working in the Anti-Corruption Division was a memorable moment for me.

If you had the opportunity to mentor women, what would you say to them?

I want to see women in more strategic leadership positions in the justice system, including that of chief justice and senior judge. In other arms and departments of government; for example, we have seen a female Speaker of Parliament and currently Uganda has a female Director of Public Prosecutions among others. I pray that one day we can have a female Chief Justice. Kenya has one and Ghana has one.

People say law is no longer the lucrative profession it used to be. Would you still advise anyone to study law today?

Law remains a noble and satisfying profession. It presents an opportunity to be a voice for the voiceless in different areas of practice, for example as a court officer, prosecutor or private lawyer. There is nothing more satisfying than doing justice to a litigant.

However, it is important that children are gradually provided with sufficient information from an early age about the law as a course so that they can assess whether it matches their abilities and interests.

The profession, like others, has not been without challenges such as unethical conduct, indiscipline and moral decadence, but it remains a prestigious profession.

Is the number of women in the legal profession increasing?

At present, in the judicial system, we have almost an equal number of female judicial officers and male judicial officers, that is 47.3% against 52.7 respectively.

And among the clerks, there are more women, and there is no evidence that women lawyers perform less well than men. Thus, women should not be afraid to aspire to study law and parents and sponsors should also change their negative perceptions.

Also, a law degree and the graduate degree are not impossible to pass as long as one stays focused. Third, law is no longer a precarious job for women as some believed. Law is a satisfying profession for women if it is practiced with integrity. A great legacy can be achieved.

I am aware of the challenges that girls face, such as parental neglect, discrimination in society and family, and high levels of sexual abuse resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic leading to teenage pregnancies.

But these should not prevent a girl from exercising a right. With the schools now open, I encourage the girl to pick up her pieces, go back to school and take advantage of the supports available and study.

What do you do when you’re not doing legal work?

I look after family and friends, undertake church activities such as premarital counseling and youth mentoring. I also find time to visit family in the countryside and on the farm.

Langa has served in most lower judicial ranks such as Deputy Registrar, Chief Magistrate, Senior Senior Magistrate and Grade 1 Magistrate. She is an International Leaders Program UK 2016 alumnus and served as President of the Judicial Contracts Committee. 2017-2020. She also chaired the Justice, Law and Order (JLOS) Sector Accountability Sub-Committee as part of the Human Rights and Accountability Task Force 2015-2017. In 2015, she was awarded a Certificate of Appreciation for Outstanding Performance by the then Chief Judge. She holds a master’s degree in law, a post-graduate diploma in public administration and management, a post-graduate diploma in legal practice and a bachelor’s degree in law. She is a member of the Uganda Association of Judicial Officers and the National Association of Women Judges.

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