Journalists who have attempted to interview judges will agree with me how hard it is to get these learned friends to talk about their lives. There are few judges of Justice George Wilson Kanyeihamba’s calibre who would freely talk about their lives. A mobile phone number of a judge is the least you expect to get from their aides and friends.
The only information you get about them from the internet are stories about their court rulings and cases handled. This is what makes Justice Geoffrey Wilfred Mupere Kiryabwire an unusual judge. A Google search will give you his mobile phone number, e-mail, CV, photos with his wife, family, his child’s name, parents, siblings and personal values.
From www.geoffreykiryabwire.com, you will also know that the judge is a fan of Manchester United.
The website carries Kiryabwire’s photos in his judicial robes and others with his wife, Dr. Winifred Tarinyebwa Kiryabwire, the mother of his only daughter, Mary Kirabo Kiryabwire. Other photos show a young Kiryabwire, his mum and father.
He encourages feedback from people but cautions, “communication about ongoing cases will not be responded to.”
His personal motto, “Do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God,” also hangs prominently on the website. When I asked him about the motto in an interview in his chambers, Kiryabwire got a Bible from his desk and read to me Micah 6:8 where he derived his motto.
“Values define who I am and how I do my work. How can you offer justice without emphasising mercy?” he says, hailing the Bible as the best tool in instilling values. Kiryabwire enrolled as advocate of the High Court in 1987 and has been a judge in the Commercial Division of the High Court since September 2003.
His childhood dream was, however, to become a doctor, and even when he became a lawyer, he never aspired to become a judge. His medical ambition changed at Kings’ College Budo where he studied History, Economics and Literature.
“I found sciences a little bit tough and most arts students then did either law or Bachelor of Commerce.”
After graduating from Makerere University, Kiryabwire worked as Principal State Attorney, Senior State Attorney, and later Director of Civil Litigation. In 1993, he joined the private sector and worked as Company Secretary and later Ag. General Manager of Pan World Insurance (now Lion Assurance Company Limited).
“There were more interesting things in the private sector than in government – markets were being opened, privatisation was on…,” he says of that period in his career.
Before his 2003 judicial appointment, Kiryabwire had been chairman of Uganda Insurers Association and a member of the Uganda Insurance Commission. He had also been appointed PWICO Executive Director.
On leaving the rewarding private sector, Kiryabwire says his friends thought he was crazy.
“I also love challenges. I thought the insurance challenge had been completed. This one offered me a new challenge,” he says.
His judicial appointment never came as a surprise. Even in the private sector, Kiryabwire remained a member of the Uganda Law Society and retained his practising certificate. “Once in a while I would [put on my robes] and go to court to represent clients,” he says.
He believes people started seeing him as a candidate for the bench after participating in several commissions of inquiry. Kiryabwire was secretary to the Porter Commission (1993-1995) that inquired into mismanagement of criminal cases in Uganda, and a lead counsel to the commission of inquiry into the closure of banks.
He was also secretary to the commission of inquiry into allegations of corruption in Uganda Revenue Authority (URA), and a member of the commission of inquiry into the purchase of junk of helicopters.
Reconciling conflicting parties is what satisfies Kiryabwire in his work. He refers to people he recently reconciled after battling in court for 12 years.
He says their case started in 1997 and moved from the High Court, Court of Appeal and Supreme Court that recently referred it back to the High Court where it was assigned to him. He suggested mediation to the conflicting parties.
“We met and solved a case that had lasted over 10 years amicably in less than five hours,” he said.
Kiryabwire urges business people to consider if legal suits will give them profits before resorting to courts.
Until recently, Kiryabwire, 47, featured in many newspaper articles for something that had little to do with his judicial work. Going into his forties without a wife was seen by some as abnormal. But that ended two years ago when at 45, Kiryabwire got married. And he has no apologies.
“Some people have early marriages and early divorces. There is a right time for everybody to do whatever they want to do,” he says.
Referring to US President Barrack Obama, the judge says: “He has a very young family in the White House, do you fault him for that?” Interestingly, his name literally means, “it eats late” in vernacular. He however says this is a family name with no connection to his personal experiences.
Outside his judicial work, Kiryabwire is a part-time lecturer at Uganda Martyrs’ University Nkozi and Uganda Christian University Mukono.
“I am also interested in contemporary Christian matters, music (old school), movies, humour and yes, soccer,” he writes on his website.
Kiryabwire is also a devout Christian and has for several years been a member of the All Saints Church Governing Council. His Christian background instilled in him virtues like an unassuming nature.
When I started confusing his titles, at one time referring to him as justice, then His Lordship, he told me to simply call him by his first name.
“These are titles, before I became a judge I was Geoffrey Kiryabwire. And I will remain one even after leaving court,” he said to me.
He also often attends youth seminars, giving them tips on how to succeed in life.
“The youths are close to my heart, a lot of what I have achieved in life, I achieved as a young person,” he said.
From his parents, Prof. Jovan Kiryabwire (RIP), the first African Neurosurgeon in East and Central Africa, and Mary Kiryabwire (a retired nurse), the judge says he learnt that “personal success without giving back to society, especially the less privileged, has no real meaning.”
As a result, in March 2009 their family started the Jovan and Mary Kiryabwire Foundation (JMK), “a non profit company as a vehicle for such interventions.”
Between April and July 2009, JMK mobilised funds that renovated the main neurosurgical ward (3A) at Mulago Hospital where Prof. Kiryabwire became a household name. In July 2009, JMK instituted the Annual Jovan and Mary Kiryabwire Award for best intern student in neurosurgery.
The organisation is now set to start Kiryabwire Academy “for the benefit of rural children in the districts of Budama and Pallisa in Uganda.”