The Constitutional Court has dismissed a petition seeking to compel the government to make available enough sign language interpreters at public health facilities and also force private health facilities to provide the same.
A petition filed by two non-governmental organizations; Initiative for Social And Economic Rights (ISER) and Uganda National Association of the Deaf (UNAD) together with Waswa Ronald and Namusisi Josephine argued that in order to ensure the effective provision of health services to persons with hearing disabilities, there was a need to have sign language interpreters at health facilities.
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According to the petition, by the government failing to provide the same, it was breaching several provisions of the Constitution such as; the right to equality and protection from discrimination.
They also alleged that the lack of these interpreters was also contrary to several international instruments to which Uganda is a party, such as; the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities; the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights; the Africa Protocol on the Rights of Women in Africa and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child.
The Petitioners were represented by lawyers; Robert Kirunda and Nabilah Sumaya, while the Attorney General was represented by State Attorney Moses Mugisha.
In a unanimous judgment written by now Supreme Court Judge Elizabeth Musoke, the petition was dismissed because it didn’t raise any matter that warranted a constitutional interpretation.
“The present petition alleges violation of rights and is consequently for enforcement of rights. The petitioners allege that the omission by the Government to ensure the availability of enough sign language interpreters at both public and private health facilities, to assist persons with hearing disabilities to communicate with medical practitioners so as to effectively address their medical issues, violates several rights of those persons under the 1995 Constitution. I, therefore, agree with the submissions of counsel for the respondent that the question the petitioners seek this Court to decide, concerns the enforcement of rights, in that it relates to a claim that certain omissions of Government infringe the rights of persons with hearing disabilities,”the Judgment reads in part.
According to the Judges, the Constitutional Court is not vested with the powers of enforcing rights.
Such powers as provided for under Article 50 (4) lay in the High Court and therefore it’s where the petitioners should have gone.
“I would find that the underlying question (issue 2) in the Petition does not concern constitutional interpretation, and thus this Court has no jurisdiction to entertain the Petition… I am inclined to find that the Petition raises no questions for constitutional interpretation and I would dismiss it. As for costs, my view is that the Petition raises matters of public interest concerning the need for Government to make available more sign language interpreters at health facilities so as to aid persons with hearing disabilities to obtain effective access to health care, and considering the practice of this Court not to award costs in matters instituted in the public interest, I would make no order as to costs,”the Judgment adds.
However, the Judges said their dismissal of the petition notwithstanding, persons with disabilities are entitled to full and effective enjoyment of rights without facing any barriers.
“In relation to persons with hearing disabilities, this Petition brings to light the likelihood that many persons with hearing disabilities are unable to get effective health care when they go to health facilities across the country because there are insufficient sign language interpreters to assist them to effectively communicate their health issues, and receive appropriate medical advice. Government has, by enacting the Persons with Disabilities Act, of 2006, undertaken to provide the assistance necessary to ensure that persons with disabilities enjoy their rights, and it ought to consider intervening if there are inadequate sign language interpreters at health facilities as alleged by the petitioners,”the Judgment notes.
Other judges on the Panel included Fredrick Egonda Ntende, Christopher Madrama, Monica Mugenyi, and Christopher Gashirabake.