25 January 2013

Uganda: Attack On Court Over Mike Mukula Ruling Dangerous


I cannot recall a time when our courts have come under such intense criticism from politicians and some sections of the public.

A growing appetite to "limit the jurisdiction" of the courts has recently emerged among some politicians and notably some Members of Parliament (MPs). Their criticism is often mistaken, and undermines the very important work the courts do.

It is deplorable our representatives and lawmakers have made statements, the effect of which is explicitly to negate the rule of law.

MPs from Teso have openly criticised the judgment delivered by the Chief Magistrate, Irene Akankwasa, of the Anti-Corruption Court, in which she convicted Mike Mukula and sentenced him to four years in prison.

Every citizen has the right to criticise court judgments, especially if and when such criticism is reasonable.

Such criticism should only be made of the merits and or demerits of a judgment.

Critics must analyse the judgment vis-a-vis the facts and evidence presented before a judge and law applied and keeping in mind the limitations of the honourable court, because healthy criticism can only strengthen the constitutional machinery.

In so doing, they cannot be accused of, for instance, having the intention of obstructing the administration of justice.

The MPs and sections of the public who have labelled the judgment "selective" have exhibited a great ignorance of the workings of courts and in my persuasion interfered in the courts' domain.

Under our system of administration of justice, the Chief Magistrate's court does not have the last word on a case. We have an appeals system that serves and has served us well for many years. And the very essence of the appeals structure and the hierarchy of our court system is that those that feel quite strongly in disagreement with a judgment of a court may appeal the decision of that court and not engage in public tongue-lashing of courts in the manner thus far exhibited by some MPs and sections of the public.

Mukula is my very good friend and a fine gentleman and I am saddened for him and his family, for he might after all be innocent as strenuously stated by his admirers and supporters but there is a civilised and lawful way of expressing that dissent and support. The remarks attributed to those MPs amounted to contempt of court.

My view is that one is at liberty to criticise the judgment of a court on the basis that it had not given due regard to the facts placed before the court or applied the law wrongly.

I have not read or heard any of the critics of the court make any reasoned arguments against the findings of the court. What one could not plausibly do without misconstruing the judgment of the court was to argue that the court had accepted the case of the prosecution as objectively true and then lambasting the court for playing politics.

The latter line of reasoning seems at best to completely misread the judgment and at worst to deliberately misrepresent it for political purposes.

Much of the current criticism of the court from some politicians is, in my view, misguided and exaggerated (and some of it downright mischievous).

Moreover, there is an obvious danger that it will be picked up and used by other irresponsible members of the public to justify their noncompliance with, or even outright rejection of court decisions in the future.

The concomitant risks of such criticisms damaging the reputation of our courts, and weakening the status of our judicial system, is real and what we certainly do not need is for political leaders to justify their political grievances by attacking our courts without basis.

The courts are only doing their job, and we all have a duty to respect that and when we disagree, do so respectfully and with facts in support of our criticism of the courts.

The writer is an advocate

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