The Constitutional Court of Uganda has on Friday unanimously quashed the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (Control) Act, the Country’s substantive law on the use and sale of illicit drugs.
Judge Muzamiru Kibeedi who wrote the lead Judgement of the 5-member Constitutional Court Panel found that the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act was passed by the 9th Parliament of Uganda without a quorum – a minimum number of Members of Parliament required by law to be in attendance for the August House to make certain decisions.
“ The importance of legislative quorum cannot be overemphasized. A legislative body with quorum possesses all the powers of the whole legislative body save those which are expressly excluded or limited by the instrument creating it or defining its powers.
As such, the general rule of all parliamentary bodies is that when quorum is present, the act of a majority of the quorum is the act of the whole body unless, of course, the instrument creating the parliamentary body has prescribed specific limitations.
Needless to add, quorum has historically been used as one of the tools for striking the balance between the need to prevent a minority in the legislature from imposing its will on the majority, while the speed of the legislature in the execution of its mandate is not held back on account of the absence of some of its members.”Judge Muzamiru Kibeedi said.
The Constitutional Court was moved to reach this decision by a petition launched by a lobby group of Khart [better known as “miraa” or “mairungi”] traders called Wakiso Miraa Growers and Dealers Association.
Represented by human rights lawyer Isaac Ssemakadde, the group had petitioned the Court challenging the classification of Khart as a “prohibited plant” under the law along with the likes of cannabis [better known as Marijuana], coca bush [source of cocaine], Papaver somniferum [source of opium] and Papaver setigerum [ source of morphine].
There was no “sound scientific evidence” to justify the classification of Khart as a prohibited plant and it could not be prohibited for just containing cathinone and cathine – both stimulants of the brain but apparently of low potency, the petitioners argued.
The Petitioners also queried the law on the alleged ground that it was passed without sufficient participation from the public, therefore, undermining the constitutional principles of “participatory democracy.”
Nonetheless, the Constitutional Court did not address any other questions beyond the lack of quorum in passing the law which it said was enough to water down the entire law considering there was no evidence that the provisions on Khart were considered by Parliament separate from the rest of the provisions.
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