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Bar -Bench row deepens as parties plot to solve impasse

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The Attorney General Kiryowa Kiwanuka the head of the Bar together with the Chief Justice Alfonse Owiny-Dollo

Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | The feud between the Uganda Law Society (ULS) and judicial officers over the independence of the Judiciary continues to deepen. Uganda Radio Network has learned that both parties are preparing for the Bar Bench Forum organized by the Uganda Law Society on February 21st, 2024, at the Sheraton Hotel in Kampala.

The forum will be both physical and virtual, providing participants with the flexibility to engage according to their preferences. Due to limited slots for physical attendance, reservations will be granted on a first-come, first-served basis, as stated in the invitation from the ULS Secretariat to all lawyers. The conflict stems from President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni’s letter dated December 7, 2023, to Chief Justice Alfonse Owiny-Dollo concerning the management of the Uganda Muslim Supreme Council (UMSC) property case involving businessman Justus Kyabahwa.

Museveni expressed concern about a judge issuing an order to attach the national mosque. In response to the letter, the ULS called for an Extraordinary Annual General Meeting on February 6th, 2024, to discuss the Judiciary’s independence. Additionally, the ULS previously organized a meeting to address concerns regarding the conduct of Hoima High Court judge Jesse Byaruhanga Rugyema in the Tilenga Oil case. However, both meetings were blocked by Civil Division Judges Musa Ssekaana and Emmanuel Baguma.

A group of 15 lawyers, calling themselves the Boycourters, have expressed disagreement with how the Judiciary and the Attorney General are handling the issue of judicial independence. They are Peter Walubiri, George Musisi, Ivan Bwowe, William Muhumuza, Anthony Odur, Mugagga Mukuve, Eron Kiiza, Jude Byamukama, Daniel Walyemera, Sarah Kasande, Phillip Karugaba, Peter Arinaitwe, Anthony Odur, Isaac Ssemakadde and Frank Kanduho.

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In a one-page statement, they assert that “it is not yet Uhuru,” addressing issues from the New Law Year event held on February 9th, 2024. The event was boycotted by the lawyers, with only a few attending among those invited. The Boycourters argue that the censure of the President’s letter offered by the ULS lacked the strength and gravitas to counter what they consider an egregious constitutional violation.

They criticize the Attorney General’s attempt to downplay the letter’s significance and emphasize the Chief Justice’s silence about it, which they see as a threat to the Judiciary’s independence. “We know this is not the first of such interference and that the President has described himself as a lobbyist on court decisions,” reads the letter.   “Both the Bar and Bench would have been saved the opprobrium of gags and boycotts respectively. Threats to limit the freedoms of assembly, association, and expression of ULS members on any issue, let alone judicial independence and judicial accountability, are preposterous,” the letter adds. To the judicial officers, the lawyers say the fight is for them and not against them.

“We have seen the ruling in Maniraguha Vs the Uganda Revenue Authority-URA condemning the Principal Judge for interfering in the decisional autonomy of a Registrar. We know what is happening. You tell us every day. It is the duty of a National Bar Association to defend the Independence of the Judiciary and we pledge to take this seriously”, reads the statement.

Furthermore, the Boycourters stress the importance of defending the Judiciary’s independence and impartiality, calling for action from Members of Parliament, the Judicial Service Commission, the Judiciary Council, and civil society organizations.

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They affirm their commitment to ensuring a strong, independent, and impartial Judiciary, urging vigilance and action against any unlawful interference between the branches of government. “Let us all remain indwelled of unflinching determination to check any unlawful intercourse between the arms of Government with respect to the independence of the Judiciary and all elements of the Rule of Law. Let nothing escape your attention and alarm.”

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URN

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