PIONEER AFRICAN WOMEN IN LAW
Lillian E Tibatemwa, Ph.D.
Supreme Court Judge (Uganda)
By Winnie Tarinyeba Kiryabwire
Lillian Tibatemwa-Ekirikubinza grew up in a family of seven children where she was the youngest child. Born to a mother who was a trained nurse and a father who trained as a teacher but worked as an Administrator in Uganda's Civil Service. She often says that perhaps it was because she was the youngest of the "brood", the "last" to come along that she has worked hard and emerged a woman of firsts in many areas. And in her words, she also says "My father expected academic excellence and nothing less from all his children. He did not discriminate the girl-child from the boy-child and we all went to the best available schools of the time. I am grateful to my mother whose love gave me self - confidence and my father whose pride in me always made me reach for the highest goal.”
Tibatemwa-Ekirikubinza spent the first thirteen years of her formal education in all-girls boarding Christian/Missionary schools. She joined Makerere University for a Bachelor of Laws (LL.B) Degree where she emerged the second-best student in her graduating class and was retained as a Teaching Assistant by the School of Law under the Staff Development Program. This was the beginning of a distinguished career in academia. She was subsequently awarded a Commonwealth Universities Scholarship to Bristol University for her Master of Laws Degree in Commercial Law. In 1995, she graduated with a doctorate in Law from the University of Copenhagen, Denmark, making her the first East African female to graduate with a Ph.D. in Law. Her other qualifications include a Diploma in Legal Practice.
Before joining the judiciary in 2013, Tibatemwa-Ekirikubinza was a Professor of Law and Deputy Vice-Chancellor in charge of Academic Affairs at Makerere University in Uganda. She is the first woman to hold the position of Vice-Chancellor as well as that of Deputy Vice-Chancellor in the nearly 100-year history of Uganda’s largest and oldest institution of higher learning. She was also the first female in East Africa to be appointed Associate Professor of Law and subsequently, the first female in East Africa to be appointed Professor of Law. She is a woman of many firsts, both in Uganda and East Africa.
Tibatemwa-Ekirikubinza is a highly experienced and widely researched legal scholar in judicial and legal matters. Her work has often entailed studying and analyzing the law and legal institutions in socio-cultural, economic, and political contexts. For the most part, she has engaged in empirical legal research and examined the interaction between law and legal institutions on the one hand, and non-legal social institutions (such as culture) and social factors on the other.
She has in most cases applied qualitative research methods to enlist the relevant information/data. The work thus links the law with the socio-economic and cultural milieu, offering an invaluable critique of the law from “a lived reality” perspective. It also presents important lessons for law reform and development. Her interests and scholarly contribution lie in Comparative Criminal Jurisprudence; Transnational Crime; Gender Crime and Criminology; Human Rights Perspectives of Criminal Law; Children’s Rights; Juvenile Justice; Rights of People with Disability; Gender and the Law; Social, Economic and Cultural Rights; Constitutionalism and the Rule of Law; Public Interest Litigation and Quality Assurance in Higher Education and Electoral Justice.
Tibatemwa-Ekirikubinza is the author of numerous scholarly articles in peer-reviewed journals and also the author of pioneer textbooks on the substantive law of crime based on judicial interpretation of Uganda’s principal legislation (the penal code). Books authored include:
• A Judicial Bench Book on Violence against Women in Commonwealth East Africa, published by the Commonwealth Secretariat in 2016.
• A Comparative Review of Presidential Election Court Decisions in East Africa. With F. Ssempebwa, E. Munuo, and Busingye Kabumba. (2016).
• Offences Against the Person: Homicides and Non-Fatal Assaults in Uganda (2005).
• Criminal Law in Uganda: Sexual Assaults and Offences against Morality (2005).
• Women’s Violent Crime in Uganda: More Sinned Against than Sinning (1998).
Tibatemwa-Ekirikubinza is a Justice of the Supreme Court in Uganda and Commissioner, International Commission of Jurists, and a Board Member of the African Judges and Jurists Forum. In 2019, she was appointed as a judge of the Court of Appeal of Seychelles, the (highest court in the land) by the President of Seychelles. Although she joined the Ugandan judiciary in 2013, Tibatemwa-Ekirikubinza was one of the pioneer trainers on the Jurisprudence of Equality Programme which introduced the training of Judicial Officers in the area of Gender and Human Rights. She also monitored the training of Kenya and Zimbabwe’s Judicial Officers under the Jurisprudence of Equality Programme, 2002.
Tibatemwa-Ekirikubinza is a Certified Judicial Educator and an alumnus of the prestigious Commonwealth Judicial Education Institute (CJEI), Nova Scotia, Canada; the National Judicial College, USA and the National Judicial College, Australia. Since joining the Judiciary in 2013, she has facilitated the training of judicial officers in various areas such as mainstreaming gender into judicial processes, public interest litigation, adjudicating the right to health – all these are areas dealing with human rights law and human rights regimes. Tibatemwa-Ekirikubunza has also facilitated the training of judicial officers in judicial writing/judgment writing. At the national level, these programs have been under the auspices of the Uganda Judiciary; at the regional level it has been under the auspices of the East African Court of Justice and the Judicial Institute for Africa and at the international level, it has been under the auspices of the International Committee of Jurists.
Tibatemwa-Ekirikubinza is also a co-author of a Judicial Bench Book on Violence against Women in Commonwealth East Africa, published in 2016. The book is a tool for training judicial and other officers in the Justice, Law and Order Sector and also acts as a quick reference for judicial officers. The book situates violence against women within both a human rights and gender perspective. Through case law, the book discusses measures to address violence against women and the role of the judiciary in ensuring that the state fulfills its obligations. Tibatemwa-Ekirikubinza has been a Visiting Scholar at renowned research institutions such as the Stellenbosch Institute for Advanced Study in South Africa and the Danish Institute for Human Rights. Lillian has also been offered a fellowship by the Cornell University Law School, U.S.A.
Tibatemwa-Ekirikubinza was declared the winner of the Best Judgments at the Supreme Court (2018) based on The Uganda Judiciary Performance Score Card 2018. As a judge, she has authored meticulously researched and robustly articulated opinions that have clarified and advanced the law in several fields ranging from constitutional law, the resolution of tax disputes, land law, and criminal justice. Justice Professor Lillian Tibatemwa-Ekirikubinza has proved to be as excellent a judge as she is a scholar. Her meticulously researched and robustly articulated judicial opinions have already clarified and advanced the law in several fields, ranging from electoral law to the resolution of tax disputes. She has already left a distinct mark on Uganda’s jurisprudence, whose reverberations will continue to be felt for many years to come.