An advocates' strike to express displeasure at police brutality against peaceful protestors and the "political abuse of the Judiciary" kicked off at the High Court in Kampala yesterday with the lawyers calling on Chief Justice to take action against errant judicial officers.
The more than 300 lawyers condemned police brutality in quelling peaceful protests, resulting in injury and loss of human life. The advocates also asked the Chief Justice Benjamin Odoki to initiate dialogue between the different political stakeholders to break the current stalemate that has seen the opposition holding peaceful protests in the last month to force government address skyrocketing cost of living.
The advocates are boycotting court beginning yesterday and are to review their decision on Saturday. The strike, according to practitioners, paralysed court work and hearings could not go on. Dressed in black gowns, they assembled in front of the High Court building where they met Justice Odoki, his deputy Ms Mpagi Bahigeine, Principal Judge Yorokamu Bamwine and a host of judicial officers. They handed a six-page petition to the CJ.
Before the belated function, police chief Maj. Gen. Kale Kayihura met the CJ, inquiring whether the strike was sanctioned. The CJ explained to him that the advocates had been allowed to present their petition and leave the court premises.
Cause of petition
Reading the petition soon after handing a copy to the CJ, Uganda Law Society president Bruce Kyerere explained that the recent events had forced members to meet on Monday to deliberate on a course of action to take.
He said the beating of innocent civilians, indiscriminate firing of tear gas including into "schools and hospitals", shooting of live ammunition resulting in deaths "indeed qualify to be categorised as crimes against humanity."
The events, he said, sent a clear signal that the country was steadily slipping away from the path of constitutionalism and the rule of law.
Justice Odoki promised to address the concerns if they are in his ambit and would take up the rest with relevant authorities.
"I urge you never to negate your duty to fight for justice, the rule of law, constitutionalism, independence of the judiciary," the CJ said.
Mr Kyerere said the Constitution guaranteed the enjoyment of human rights but the police wantonly limited the constitutional freedoms beyond what is necessary, even after the Constitutional Court gave direction as to the extent of police powers in relation to public demonstrations in the case of Muwanga Kivumbi versus Attorney General.
Justice Odoki promised he would be the advocates' ambassador, raise the issues at the Justice Law and Order Sector forum and complaints against judicial officers would be examined.
"Ugandans are out there suffering, yearning for your services. You should go back to work now that you have made your point," Justice Odoki said, drawing murmurs of disapproval.
The lawyers booed their president Mr Kyerere when he suggested calling off the strike as had been requested by the CJ. In Masaka, people went without legal representation as lawyers stayed away. Only the government prosecutors sat on the bench in Masaka where Chief Magistrate Sarah Mponge declined to comment on the matter. Heavily armed soldiers continued to patrol the streets of Masaka town.