Court goers were treated to rare drama as Justice Esther Kisakye of the Supreme Court accused the head of the judiciary, Chief Justice Alfonse Owiny-Dollo of confiscating her file which contained her dissenting judgment in the Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu presidential election petition.
Kyagulanyi had petitioned the court seeking to annul President Yoweri Museveni’s victory in the January 14 elections but later withdrew the petition in protest of what he called the court’s show of bias and lack of independence after it declined to entertain his application to amend the petition, and, to receive fresh evidence that he intended to file outside the timelines the court had set for him.
Dollo and seven other justices of the court delivered the majority judgement which was read by Justice Ezekiel Muhanguzi, and when it was time for Kisakye to read hers, she discovered that it was missing, and instantly, the public address system was turned off, power connectivity was switched off as court officials and lawyers representing President Yoweri Museveni, the Electoral Commission and Attorney General; the three respondents in the case walked away.
But that did not deter Kisakye who told journalists that, “I am seated here to give my minority ruling. The Chief Justice and other members of the Coram have opted not to be part of this afternoon’s proceedings and I respect their decision. I instructed my staff to put my ruling here for reading. However, what is of surprise to me is that my file has apparently been confiscated on the orders of the Chief Justice. I am going to proceed to the court building and recover my file and come back here today and deliver my ruling as scheduled.”
In the majority ruling, the Court saved Kyagulanyi from paying costs to three respondents in the presidential election petition that he had filed before the court.
In a detailed ruling read by Justice Ezekiel Muhanguzi, the Justices argued that since the petition was withdrawn and that there is no one else who challenged Museveni’s victory within the prescribed time frame which has expired today, it is automatic that Museveni is the winner of the previous polls.
The Supreme Court justices also blamed Kyagulanyi saying that instead of complaining to the media and about their capacity to be independent and impartial well knowing that he was violating the sub-judice rule, he should have blamed his lawyers who failed to meet the deadlines given by the court.
On costs, the Justices noted that although the petition was not heard and concluded, it touches on democracy and validity of the election of the highest office in the land and which convinced them that the court should apply different principles in light of the withdrawn petition while deciding on costs.
Court heard that the use of the word “shall” in provisions of Section 61 of the Presidential Elections Act 2005 which talks about paying costs upon the withdraw of the Petition is a directive and not mandatory.
“This means that the general provisions of the law related to costs should be applied to this case. Ordinarily, the petitioner would be ordered to pay costs of the petition to the respondents based on the general rule that costs follow the event”, said Muhanguzi.
However, he added that since the need to promote access to justice in presidential election petitions overrides the need to condemn the applicants to payment of costs, each party will pay their costs.
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