URSB Free Not To Register Companies That Promote Homosexuality

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The Registrar of Companies under the Uganda Registration Services Bureau (URSB) is well within her mandate to refuse applications for company name reservation and incorporation of companies whose purpose is to promote homosexuality in Uganda, the Court of Appeal has confirmed.

On Tuesday, a panel of three Justices of the appellate Court led by Lady Justice Catherine Bamugemereire upheld the June 2018 decision of the High Court in the case of gay rights Activist Mr. Frank Mugisha and 2 others [appellants] Versus Uganda Registration Services Bureau that the Companies Act under Section 36 (2) empowers the Registrar to refuse to reserve company names for purposes of company incorporation on the ground that they are “undesirable.”

Section 36 (2) provides that:

“ No name shall be reserved and no company shall be registered by a name, which in the opinion of the registrar is undesirable.”

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The Appellants sought to reserve the name “Sexual Minorities Uganda” and eventually register a company limited by guarantee to among other purposes “promote protection, wellbeing, and dignity of LGBTI persons and combat discrimination in policy, law, and practice.”

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The Registrar of Companies declined to register the name on grounds that the intended company was “formed to advocate for the rights and wellbeing of lesbians and gays, among others which persons are engaged in activities labeled criminal acts under Section 145 of the Penal Code Act [which prohibits sexual intercourse against the order of nature],” the Court of Appeal said.

Although the Appellants had framed their case as a case seeking the enforcement of human rights of homosexuals as human beings, the Court of Appeal avoided rendering a meaningful interrogation of alleged rights violations involved in the Registrar’s decision and powers.

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The Court advised that the Appellants should have instead filed their case as a matter for Judicial review of the Registrar’s decision to assess its legality.

Thus the Court of Appeal restricted itself to the question of whether the law empowers the Registrar to reject the reservation of names on the ground that she finds such names “undesirable” in the interest of government policy and public interest – which the Court answered in the positive.

“ I looked carefully at the authorities cited by the appellant by which were were to be persuaded. They are indeed quite persuasive authorities but I don’t find their relevance with the issues at hand.

In a more pertinent appeal, I would perhaps apply them to pertinent facts. This appeal was not about the abrogation of any particular behavior in our society. I have already found that the appeal was about the reservation of a name.

The learned trial Judge did not err when she found that the respondent [URSB] was justified in its decision which decision was taken in the public interest. Based on the above discourse, I find that the respondent was well within its mandate to disallow the name proposed by the appellants under Section 36(2) of the Companies Act.”

Justice Catherine Bamugemereire Ruled.
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Putting aside the Court of Appeal’s failure to render juristic guidance on the alleged human rights implications underlying the Registrar’s decision not to register a company promoting homosexuality, this case illustrates the high levels of institutional intolerance in Uganda against sexual deviants and any causes aimed at their inclusion in societal discourse and policy initiatives.


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