The High Court in Kampala has issued an order barring lawyers under their association the Uganda Law Society from discussing the independence of the Judiciary.
Judge Musa Ssekaana issued the last minute order overnight blocking the Law Society from holding an Extraordinary General Meeting that was slated for today afternoon to discuss alleged shrinkage of independence of the Judiciary of Uganda.
Justice Ssekaana made the order temporarily injuncting the meeting at the behest of one of the society’s members Mr Brian Kirima who lodged a last minute case for Judicial review against the Uganda Law Society’s governing council challenging its mandate to convene the meeting.
According to the lawyer, the Law Society’s meeting would be illegal because the Society has no legal mandate to discuss the independence of the Judiciary as that falls outside the society’s objectives under the Uganda Law Society Act ( ULS Act).
” The Applicant ( Mr Kirima) has satisfied this Court that there is a prima facie case or serious questions to be investigated or interrogated to determine the legality of the proposed agenda of meeting as proposed by the petitioners who have set out several areas of concern which in their view should be a subject of discussion at the Extraordinary General Meeting” Judge Ssekaana said, ruling that Mr Kirima’s case had met the threshold required to halt the meeting until after determination of his Judicial review case as a whole.
This is the second time in a space of a month that the Courts are frustrating the efforts of the Uganda Law Society to hold a meeting to discuss the independence of Judges in Uganda, the last time being 12th January 2024.
Under Section 3 of the ULS Act which establishes the Law Society, “ to represent, protect and assist members of the legal profession in Uganda as regards conditions of practice and otherwise, to protect and assist the public in Uganda in all matters touching, ancillary or incidental to the law” are stated as some of the objectives of the Law Society and it is therefore spurious that a lawyer or a Court of law can doubt the legality of the Law Society’s discussions.
The 15 lawyers and members of the Law Society who petitioned the Secretary of the Society on 12 January 2024 to hold the now halted Extraordinary General meeting cited several instances where judicial independence is alleged to have been fettered or threatened.
These include President Museveni’s letter to the Chief Justice castigating a Judge’s handling of a case involving the attachment of a national mosque, statements allegedly made by the Vice President at a Judges’ conference where she allegedly accused some of them of being “pawns” for some lawyers and the public duel between the Principal Judge and Justice Steven Mubiru, among others.
The lawyers who include public interest litigators such as Mr Phillip Karugaba of ENS Africa and Mr Isaac Ssemakadde of Legal Brains Trust also said they were “alarmed by the failure of the President of the Uganda Law Society to heed calls to issue a public statement on these matters as a statutory imperative.”
Meanwhile, the struggle for the Judiciary’s independence in Uganda coincides with a similar struggle in neighboring Kenya that has culminated into the banning of Senior Counsel Ahmednasir Abdullahi from appearing in the Supreme Court because of his criticisms of the Kenyan Judiciary.
At the time of writing, Ugandan Judges are meeting at a Judges’ conference in Kampala and it is not clear how the timing of the Uganda Law Society Extraordinary General Meeting played into the Court’s decision to halt its occurrence.
Benjamin Ahikiiriza is a Legal Writer And Digital Communications & Marketing Specialist majoring in Lawyers, Law Firms And the larger Legal Sector.
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