Supreme Court Holds Special Session for Late Justice Ruby Opio Aweri

The Supreme Court has today, Monday held a special court session following the passing of Supreme Court Justice Ruby Opio Aweri.

Justice Opio died on Wednesday 7th December at Mulago hospital after suffering a stroke while conducting his routine Inspections in Lira district, as the inspector of Court.

He becomes the first Justice of the Supreme Court to die while still in service.

According to the Administration of the Judiciary Act 2020, Justice Ruby Opio, being a Justice of the Supreme Court is entitled to a state funeral.

Special Supreme Court Session

At the Judiciary headquarters, the High Court in Kampala, the family of the late Justice and judicial officers including Justices of the Supreme Court, Court of Appeal, High Court and Magistrates Courts converged for the court session.

After the anthems, the Clerk to the court read an application filed by the Chief Registrar Sarah Siu seeking court orders to grant leave to judicial officers to commemorate the life of Justice Opio.

The panel of Supreme Court Justices to hear the application consisted of Justice Alfonse Chigamoy Owiny-Dollo, Deputy Chief Justice Richard Buteera, Lady Justice Stella Arach, Justice Faith Mwondha and Justice Percy Night Tuhaise.

The Deputy Attorney General Jackson Kafuzi Byarugaba assisted by other officers from the Attorney General’s office represented the applicant.

The application, Kafuuzi said, was brought under article 132 and 133 of the Constitution and Section 23 and Schedule 3 of the Administration of Judiciary Act 2020 and other rules which talk about public officials who qualify to get state funeral.

“…seeking orders that leave be granted to the judicial officers and staff of the Judiciary to commemorate the Hon Justice Ruby Opio Aweri now deceased for the distinguished services he rendered to the Judiciary of the Republic of Uganda. We make no prayers as to costs” read the application in part.

The application was supported by an affidavit sworn by the Chief Registrar Sarah Langa Siu who worked with the late for over a decade. The applicant raise several grounds, which detailed the history of late Justice Ruby Opio’s services in the judiciary and the country at large.

The Deputy Attorney General, while presenting the application, hence asked that court grants leave to judicial officers to commemorate the fallen justice’s life.

The respondent in this application was the Uganda Law Society led by their President Bernard Oundo who was being assisted by former presidents of the Society, senior counsels, members of the council and the treasurer to the Society, Isaac Newton Kyagaba who swore an affidavit on behalf of the Society.

Oundo acknowledged, having listened and understood the submissions of the applicant’s counsel and in response recognized the service of the late Justice to the legal fraternity, Justice Law and Order Sector and Ugandans. He said, as the Law Society, they believed the late Justice deserved to be commemorated and honored.

The Chief Justice then asked the counsel for the applicant to submit a rejoinder if any. The applicant’s counsel didn’t have a rejoinder since the respondents did not object to the application.

The submissions were hence closed, and the Court went ahead to give its ruling which was read by the Chief Justice himself.

He read a detailed judgement with background, submissions of counsels and orders of court.

Court ordered that Judicial Officers go on leave to commemorate the passing of Justice Ruby Opio Aweri.

There were no costs awarded.

The Chief Justice went ahead to endorse the judgment by signing before adjourning the sitting. The court session closed and the panel of Justices of the Supreme Court walked out.

They returned after more than ten minutes to eulogize their fallen colleague. The Chief Justice Alfonse Chigamoy Owiny-Dollo reminisced about his meeting with the late while at Makerere University and how the late treated him with humility.

He recalled that when he joined University in 1980, as a freshman, he met the late who was in third year but yet was very casual with everyone and even invited him to his (late’s) room and gave him good orientation. He says that at the end of his course at University, the late invited him again to his room and handed me a box full of law books and reference materials that helped him all throughout his student life.

The Chief Justice described the deceased as a composed person whom he never saw express hunger and that he used the voice of reason and harmony while executing his mandate as a judicial officer and member of the Supreme Court.

He praised him for his hard work and being a career judge who rose from the position of Grade One Magistrate to a Supreme Court Justice. He says it is partly for this reason that he appointed him an Inspector of Court because he knew the dynamics which the low-ranking Judicial officers such as magistrates went through. The Chief Justice says that the deceased’s career journey should be an inspiration to other judicial officers to work hard and also rise to higher levels.

In his eulogy to the late, Deputy Chief Justice Richard Buteera said that Justice Opio’s ime at the Bench and in Uganda’s legal arena cannot be over-emphasized. He says the deceased has mentored many judicial officers and Lawyers and has been a real epitome of Judicial ethics and integrity.

Justice Buteera described his fallen colleague as one who committed himself to work with integrity and that is why he rose from the lowest Professional rank of a Magistrate Grade 1 to a Justice of the Supreme  Court.

The family of the fallen Justice was represented in issuing their eulogy by his son George Obong.

He described his father as a loving and intelligent man who inspired them to take on challenges and rise to great heights without taking advantage of others.

Who is Justice Ruby Opio Aweri?

He was born on 31 May 1953 in Kachunga Village, Agwata Subcounty, Dokolo Country Lira district and married to Susan Acheng Aweri and together they had ten children.

He attained his primary education at Kachunga Primary School and Agwata Primary School between 1960 and 1969. He also obtained an East African Certificate of Education from Lango College Lira in 1973 and an East African Advanced Certificate of Education at Dr. Obote College Boroboro Lira in 1977. 

On the 8th day October 1981, he was awarded a Bachelors Degree of Laws from Makerere University, and on 31st January 1983 he obtained a post-graduate diploma in Legal practice from the Law Development Center.

Later he was awarded a Master of Laws from Makerere University.   He joined the Judiciary as a Magistrate Grade One in 1983 and rose through the ranks until he was appointed Judge of the High Court in 1998, elevated to the Justice of the Court of Appeal in 2013 and later Justice of the Supreme Court in 2015.

At the time of his death, he was also serving as the Chief Inspector of Courts and a member of the first Judiciary Council.    In his other services, he was treasurer of the Uganda Magistrates Association between 1993 and 1997, Deputy Diocesan Chancellor for Mbale Dioses from 1988 to 1998 and Vice Chairperson of the Board of Governors of Dr. Obote College and Agwata Secondary School.

He also served as a part-time lecturer and examiner of Business Law at Uganda College of Commerce Aduku from 1984 to 1991, an examiner, orals, at the Law Development Center from 1995 to 1997, Chancellor of Uganda Pentecostal University from 2015 to 2022.

The late shall be buried on Friday.

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