The judiciary’s fight to save face suffered a huge blow on Friday as Supreme Court judge, Justice Esther Kisakye lifted the cover off the highest court in the land, to give an insight into what went on behind the scenes as the patriarchs of law in Uganda prepared to conclude former presidential candidate, Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu’s election petition.
Kyagulanyi withdrew the petition that was meant to overturn President Yoweri Museveni’s re-election to a sixth elective term, accusing the court of bias and lack of independence.
While the court agreed to his withdrawal of the petition, it set Friday, March 18, as the day for delivering its detailed ruling. What they did anticipate was that an embarrassing episode awaited them.
It all started shortly after the nine-member panel of the Supreme Court led by the Chief Justice, Alfonse Owiny-Dollo delivered its detailed judgment explaining why they okayed the withdraw of Kyagulanyi’s petition and why each party in the petition should meet its costs.
Immediately after, announced that the court would break off and reconvene at 1:30 pm without giving any reason. This prompted the registrar to follow the Chief Justice to his Chambers to find out whether he made the announcement in error or there was still pending business.
Court reconvened around 2:30 pm. However, the respondents’ lawyers led by the Attorney General William Byaruhanga were summoned to the chambers for consultations and returned shortly after to pack their files and hastily left the court premises.
A court official appeared and ordered the team from Fotogenix that supplied the tent and public address system to pack and go. Justice Esther Kisakye sat all alone in the tent looking on in bewilderment.
After about 15 minutes, she broke her silence telling journalists that Dollo had confiscated her file. She went to the court building to search for the file giving an opportunity to the police to drive everyone out of the tent where the court has been sitting.
Kyagulanyi’s lawyer, Samuel Muyizi who had remained in court, said this was the first time he was experiencing such an incident.
The Judiciary spokesperson, Solomon Muyita showed up to explain what was going but his address was cut short when Kisakye returned saying that she had failed to trace her file but had accessed her draft copy from which she read her ruling.
“The Chief Justice was saying that my ruling would be read at a later date that he would choose to appoint and that after him, and the other members of the Coram had probably vetted my ruling. I found that order unconstitutional, and I chose to disobey it,” she said.
“When I was appointed a judge of this court in 2009, I swore to uphold the Constitution of Uganda, and also took the judicial oath. I am acting based on those undertakings I made, I felt it my constitutional duty to disobey the unconstitutional orders of the Chief Justice and fulfill my duty as a member of this Coram,” Justice Kisakye added.
She further accused Dollo of attempting to use “barbaric means and use his powers in the manner that he chooses.”
“Their dissent is that I declined to circulate my ruling among other justices yet there is no law that binds me to do so. They wanted to vet my ruling before I presented it,” the Lady Justice said.
She went ahead to say that she was convinced that Kyagulanyi’s being under house arrest for 10 days after the presidential elections prevented him from filing the petition on time but court ignored this reality.
Additional reporting by URN