Is the Ombudsman’s Office attempting a putsch on our judges?

Putsch (plural putsches) is defined as a ‘coup; an illegal effort to forcibly overthrow the current government’.  While in no shape or form am I saying that the good people working at the Kimihurura headquarters of the Ombudsman’s Office are secretly planning to overthrow the government of President Kagame, I cannot say the same for our beleaguered legal system. That is what I’ve been deducing while reading the Draft Law Establishing the Responsibilities, Powers, Organisation and Functioning of the Office of the Ombudsman, which is currently before the august Chamber of Deputies.

Very few articles in the draft law are controversial, but when they are, it’s slightly frightening. I have huge issues with Article 30, which is titled ‘Powers to review judgments’. The draft law states that in the interest of the law, the Office of the Ombudsman has powers to request the Supreme Court to reconsider and review judgments rendered by any court at the last instance, if there is any instance of injustice”.

If you read that article simplistically it sounds like a good idea. I mean, who doesn’t want to make sure that judgments are rendered fairly? Justice is good right? Of course it is. But when the drafters of this proposed bill wrote ‘in the interests of the law’, what interests where they talking about? Not in the interest of empowering our judges that’s for sure. How would it feel if someone kept looking over your shoulder as you went about your daily tasks at work, waiting for you to trip up so that they could point out just how incompetent you were? You’d feel unduly pressured and more liable to making errors.

Our judges, nay, our entire judicial system prosecutors, public defenders, bailiffs, court secretaries are overloaded with work but they are doing a great job nevertheless. Forgive me if I sound a bit too sympathetic to the judiciary but if I hadn’t ended up working with this newspaper, I might have ended up being a judge or state prosecutor someone; I have quite a few classmates from the National University who are dispensing justice all over the country. So, when their integrity is so shamelessly attacked I cannot but stand in their corner.

I won’t even pretend to believe that all our judges are angels fighting for truth and justice. There certainly a few bad apples in the barrel. However, I cannot, for the life of me, understand why the Ombudsman’s Office wants the powers to second guess a lower court’s decision simply because they don’t like it. I don’t think this is reasonable because we already have an appeals process that works perfectly fine. If I don’t like the decision rendered by one court I can simply appeal to a higher one. This appeals process is well documented in our statute books on criminal and civil procedure. So I must ask, why fix something that isnt broken?

I believe in the sanctity of the separation of powers. The judiciary, legislature and the executive all have important roles to play in a smooth running of a government and I think it’s dangerous when one meddles in the daily business of another. The Ombudsman does a lot of great things I presume but honestly, how do they expect me to believe that they will advise the Supreme Court in matters relating to a decided case when they can’t even properly frame an article of law? What in the heavens do they mean when they … “if there is any instance of injustice”? Who judges whether there is injustice or not? Legal scholars, senior judges, members of civil society or just Ombudsman staff? Who defines ‘injustice’ anyway?

I have a premonition that what we’re witnessing is a power grab and I cannot stay silent on the matter. I sincerely hope that our Members of Parliament strike that offending article out of the draft law and strike a blow for judicial independence.

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