KAMPALA. The Judiciary in a surprise move on Tuesday, announced that the five age limit constitutional petitions that have been consolidated into one, will be heard from the far eastern town of Mbale starting April 4 in a marathon style.
The announcement by Deputy Chief Justice Alfonse Owiny-Dollo, who doubles as the head of the Constitutional Court/Court of Appeal where the age limit petitions were filed, however, attracted sharp criticisms from the lawyers of the petitioners, who cited financial implications and inconveniences as some of the challenges they are likely to face.
“Some of our petitioners/clients may not be able to go to Mbale due to capacity issues. Our clients may find it difficult to support their legal team and themselves over there,” Kampala lord mayor Erias Lukwago who is one of the lawyers in the age limit petitions said.
The five petitions had come up on Tuesday in the Nakasero-based court for their maiden reading ever since they were filed early this year following the amendment of the Constitution to scrap Article 102(b) that had previously barred all Ugandan citizens aged below 35 and above 75 from contesting for presidency.
Before Mr Lukwago could conclude his submission, justice Owiny-Dollo put it to him: “Are you suggesting that Uganda is Kampala. This court remains the same regardless of where it sits,”
In response, Mr Lukwago at length, elaborated of how the Mbale idea would break them and that this might affect the smooth flow of the hearing.
He also argued that he has never seen Parliament conduct its legislative business in upcountry towns like Kasese or Karamoja before wondering why the Constitutional Court should sit in Mbale.
“This will be an inconvenience as advocates since Mbale High Court has no library. Some of our law firms have no branches in Mbale and there might be somethings that we may urgently need in Kampala and yet the hearing is in Mbale,” Mr Lukwago cried out.
He continued: “For our matter, the petitioners are all MPs, meaning they have other businesses to attend to here in Kampala. In fact, we have the Leader of Opposition in Parliament, Ms Winfred Kiiza, the Opposition Chief Whip, Mr Ibrahim Semujju Nganda and shadow ministers, meaning the whole opposition will be in Mbale.”
But to further address the lawyers’ fears, justice Owiny-Dollo urged them to sacrifice their time and resources and head to Mbale if at all they love this country and that the matter they are to handle is of much importance to the country.
“We must all be prepared to sacrifice. I don’t buy the idea that MPs find it inconveniencing to go to Mbale, no no….” the Deputy Chief Justice scoffed at the lawyers.
Justice Owiny-Dollo went on to crack a joke by asking Mr Lukwago whether he would reject a request by the Attorney General to represent Uganda in a London court before answering himself that he would gladly go running and yet Mbale is a ‘very near place.’
The judge also cracked another joke when an ambulance passed by near the court with its siren blaring, saying it’s one of the reasons why they should leave Kampala to go to Mbale, which he said is a quiet place.
Ms Christine Kaahwa, the director of Civil Litigation who represented the Attorney General in court on Tuesday, was okay with the idea of having court sitting outside the city.
The judge also rested the fears of the petitioners that they will not be arm twisted by anybody while they handle these matter and that their decision will be based purely on the evidence and law.
One of the petitioners, Mr Male Mabirizi asked court for the particulars of the five justices who are to hear the petition, arguing that there are some judges he is not comfortable with.
In response, justice Owiny-Dollo told him not worry.
In total so far, there are five petitions challenging the events and the process leading to and the actual enactment of the constitution (Amendment) Act, 2017 as being inconsistent with the Constitution.
The petitioners want the act annulled with some arguing that it’s only going to benefit Mr Museveni who will be above the age of 75 in the next general election and not fit to offer his candidature.
Some of these petitioners include; Uganda Law Society (ULS), six opposition MPs led by leader of opposition in Parliament Kiiza, city lawyer, Mr Male Mabirizi, former presidential candidate, Mr Abed Bwanika and a concerned citizen from Western Uganda, Mr Prosper Busingye.
Following the constitutional amendment that was characterized by fist fight among the MPs who were opposed and those who were in favour, now anybody aged 18 and above can contest for presidency, a position previously ring-fenced for persons above 35 years but below 75 years of age.
The Act also extended the tenure of the current Parliament and the local government councils from five years to seven.
The tenure of the President was also expanded from the current five to seven years but this has to be first subjected to a referendum.