The Judiciary has been put on the spot after opposition politicians accused some judges of conflict of interest over their meeting with president Museveni who is one of the respondents in a case in which former presidential candidate, Mr Robert Kyagulanyi is challenging his victory in the January 14 elections.
There have been reports doing round online that some Judiciary’s top leaders including judges hearing Mr Kyagulanyi’s election petition have been “secretly meeting” President Museveni at State House, something critics say amounts to conflict of interest.
However, describing the reports as false, the Judiciary on Sunday said one of the two recent occasions its top leadership met Mr Museveni at State House Entebbe was during the swearing in ceremony of Justice Margaret Apiny, a newly appointed judge of the High Court.
“It is a requirement of the law in Schedule to the Oath Act for such a judicial Oath to be taken before the president or any other person authorized by the president,” the Judiciary public relations officer, Mr Jameson Karemani said in a statement.
He said the Chief Justice, Alfosne Owiny-Dollo used the swearing in occasion to present Judiciary’s Budget estimates for 2021/22 Financial Year to the President as required by the Administration of Judiciary Act, 2020.
“It is important to note that this was an official ceremony with the full glare of media coverage- there was nothing secret,” Mr Kareman’s statement adds.
The other meeting, according to the statement was on February 16, 2021 when the CJ Owiny-Dollow attended the Jan Luwum Day celebrations at State House Entebbe at the invitation of of the Archbishop of the Church of Uganda.
“This too was not in secret. We condemn such falshoods being published for whatever reasons,” he added.
The chief justice and eight other judges of the Supreme Court are expected to start hearing Mr Kyagulanyi’s petition on February 24, 2021 before the give their judgemnet on March 18.
The other judges are Dr Esther Kisaakye Kitimbo, Stella Arach-Amoko, Rubby Aweri Opio, Faith Essy Mwondha, Ezekiel Muhanguzi, Percy Night Tuhaise and Justice Paul Kahaibale Mugamba.
The Judiciary statement comes barely a week after Mr Kyagulanyi asked three judges to disqualify themselves from hearing his election petition against President Museveni, citing conflict of interest.
The National Unity Platform (NUP) Opposition party president on February 16 named Chief Justice Owiny-Dollo, Justice Mike Chibita and Justice Ezekiel Kurabiraho Muhanguzi. Mr Kyagulanyi says justice will not be served if the three judges are involved in hearing his petition.
“We have questions about the Chief Justice Owiny-Dollo, having been a former Museveni minister, having been a former Museveni defence lawyer and also we have seen pictures indicating that the Chief justice has been meeting with Gen Museveni on a regular basis. We believe that within the law, that is wrong,” Bobi said while addressing journalists at NUP offices in Kamwokya, a Kampala suburb.
“Therefore, we want the Chief Justice not to be part of this hearing. Not just the Chief Justice, there are other justices in the Supreme Court like (Justice) Mike Chibita, who we all know was the private secretary for legal affairs in Museveni’s office for seven years. We also know that (Justice) Ezekiel Muhanguzi is a relative of Gen Elly Tumwine, a person that the national and international community has castigated for abusing human rights,” Mr Kyagulanyi explained.
Gen Tumwine later issued a short video recording on Twitter saying “I have no blood relations with any Justice on the Supreme Court panel as alleged by blackmailers. I forgive them.”
The Chief justice while hearing Mr Kyagulanyi’s application to have him file about 200 more affidavits, said the Supreme Court wil not be blackmailed or intimidated by Mr Kyagulanyi’s accusations.
He said Mr Kyagulanyi should not have run to the judges to challenge Mr Museveni’s victory if he did not have confidence in the court.
Eight judges later dismissed Mr Kyagulanyi’s application to allow him file more affidavits.
This comes after Hassan Male Mabirizi, a lawyer, on Monday petitioned the Supreme Court seeking the Chief Justice Alfonse Owiny-Dollo to step aside for fear that he is biased because of his background with the first respondent, President Museveni.
Mr Kyagulanyi said the court is acting in a manner that shows they are partial yet they are supposed to be independent.
“We went to the Supreme Court to seek justice, not injustice. We want to put the Supreme Court on notice; that if this persists, we are not going to be part of the mockery. We have not even started the hearing but the court is rejecting our evidence. What is the reason? We strongly believe that the court is working with orders from Gen. Museveni. Many of our witnesses are (also) in jail,” Mr Kyagulanyi said.