The storm sparked by Deputy Chief Justice Steven Kavuma’s order blocking Parliamentary discussion on the contested Shs 6bn payout to URA lawyers and other government officials in the Heritage Oil & Gas tax case is yet to settle with lawyers seeking the Chief Justice’s intervention.
In a letter dated January 10, 2017, Legal Brain Trust represented by Isaac Ssemakadde say Kavuma’s “mismanagement of the Constitutional Court/Court of Appeal abetted by the silence/inaction of the Chief Justice (Bar Katureebe) and other senior judges is a scandal that has gone on for far too long.”
Kavuma early this week issued an order to “restrain parliament, any person or authority from investigating, questioning or inquiring into the impugned bonus payments and or staying any proceedings of whatever nature.”
The order did not only spark public outrage but also a storm in Parliament and threatened the doctrine of separation of powers.
Speaker Rebecca Kadaga described the order as “stupid” which she said was intended to “gag Parliament from doing its work.”
Ssemakadde said in his letter seen by ChimpReports that the “bonus payments gagging order scandalously purports to oust both judicial and parliamentary scrutiny of the subject matter, thus undermining the judicial policy of deference to other institutional checks and balances enshrined in the Constitution.”
He further said the immediate consequence of this order has been to “block an imminent parliamentary inquiry into a matter of appropriations (an exclusive mandate of the Legislature) and to impede the prosecution of public interest litigation sought to be initiated by our organisation at the High Court of Uganda.”
Kavuma’s previous controversial orders have since caused unease in society.
Ssemakadde said Kavuma’s “misconduct is not only a clear breach of the constitutional guarantees for freedom of expression and the system of judicial and parliamentary checks on abuse or misuse of power by the executive, but also a demonstration of the return of partisan and tyrannical tendencies at the Bench which will ultimately bring the Judiciary and the Rule of Law into disrepute.”
Realising Kavuma’s order would cause friction between the judiciary and legislature, a senior judicial official today said the order could be vacated.
“The Judiciary has noted that Parliament is aggrieved by the decision of the Constitutional Court and has in that respect directed the Attorney General to take immediate steps to have the order set aside by the Constitutional Court,” said the Judiciary’s Chief Registrar, Paul Gadenya Wolimbwa said in a statement issued Wednesday.
“The action taken by Parliament is commendable and is in accordance with the rule of law because the law allows any aggrieved party to appeal or challenge the decision of a court,” said Gadenya.
Kadaga yesterday said Parliament would not debate the national budget, and that “there is no way government will secure money from the consolidated fund without discussing this matter (oil bonus payments).”
He directed the Attorney General to “move to court immediately and get this stupid order vacated.”
Gadenya concurred with Kadaga that it’s not too late to get rid of the court order.
“In this case, the Attorney General is at liberty to appeal against the decision of the court by way of reference to a panel of three justices of the Constitutional Court, and if still dissatisfied, can appeal to the Supreme Court,” said Gadenya.
On his part, Ssemakadde said it was now common knowledge at the Bar that “there are two regimes for the grant of interim orders by the Constitutional Court/Court of Appeal – the “Kavuma way” and the “other way”. And it is only a select pre-determined group of litigants and their lawyers who possess the means and wherewithal to access the Kavuma way.”
He further told Katureebe the Constitutional Court/Court of Appeal seldom empanels a coram to dispose of the substantive applications for temporary injunctions to which Kavuma’s interim orders are pegged, thus giving the impugned interim orders a perpetual lifetime.
“We understand that this unfortunate result is achieved through the mischievous practice of Justice Kavuma locking away the parent files and influencing the Court’s Registrar to delay the scheduling permanently so as to satisfy the interests of the DCJ’s favoured litigants,” said Ssemakadde.
“The violation of human rights by a judicial officer while exercising judicial authority is the most insidious form of tyranny and oppression – the worst kind of misconduct in public office that the Constitution sought to abolish in the Preamble,” he added.
Gadenya today expressed the judiciary’s commitment to “reassure the public that the dispute will be handled in accordance with the Constitution and the laws of Uganda.”
During yesterday’s plenary session, MP Oboth Oboth warned against efforts to undermine Parliament, saying, the court order must be vacated.
“My fear is that another court order might come tomorrow restricting Members from coming here,” said MP Oboth, exciting the House.
The lawyers expressed fear that if Kavuma’s “misconduct is not promptly and sternly checked, there shall be dire consequences for the Judiciary – and public contempt for Your Lordship’s (innocent and dutiful) judges shall be the least of your worries.”
Ssemakadde urged action to be taken by the Uganda Judiciary to “rein in the DCJ and restore our confidence in the Constitutional Court/Court of Appeal.”