7 January 2018

Uganda: Inside Looming Legal Battle On Age Limit Act

The Constitutional Court will in the coming weeks be flooded with petitions challenging the age limit Bill that President Museveni signed into law two weeks ago, Sunday Monitor can reveal.

This reporter has spoken to a number of groups, including lawyers, politicians and civil society actors who are preparing separate petitions to challenge the Act.

Mr Francis Gimara, the president of the Uganda Law Society (ULS), said they have "already resolved that the Uganda Law Society would use its independence to challenge the amendment if it is passed in an unconstitutional manner," which he says has happened.

Mr Gimara said they have engaged a team of experts who are already studying the Act to identify the grounds and challenge the law "as soon as the gazetting is done".

Another group of lawyers, Lawyers for Constitutionalism in Uganda, said they are also preparing a legal challenge of their own. The group includes prominent law lecturers at Makerere University and law practitioners in Kampala. One of the lawyers told Sunday Monitor on condition that he is not named that they are working together with two retired judges to prepare their petition challenging the Act.

Another group working on a petition of their own is of Opposition leaders, who are represented by a set of lawyers, including Kampala Lord Mayor Erias Lukwago.

Sunday Monitor understands that there are several other groups that are preparing their won petitions, and Mr Lukwago estimates that the Constitutional Court may receive up to 10 petitions challenging the recent changes in the Constitution.

The Constitutional Court has already received a petition by Mr Male Mabirizi Kiwanuka, which was filed shortly after the Bill was passed by Parliament on December 22.

Mr Lukwago and Mr Yusuf Nsibambi, one of those preparing the petition for Lawyers for Constitutionalism in Uganda, said the proper process to challenge the Act would be to wait for it for it to be gazetted. They argue that a petition that is filed before a law is gazetted could be adjudged to be speculative.

The issues, intrigue

Some of the lawyers preparing to challenge the law fear that the government side is organising sabotage games and could file phony petitions of its own, raising superfluous grounds and not making the key arguments with the objective of having the petition thrown out. This is perhaps why there are many groups working on separate petitions of their own.

All the groups we talked to said they will challenge the process through which the Constitution was changed that saw, among other things, security operatives storm Parliament and beat up MPs on September 27. They, therefore, intend to challenge the way Igara West MP Raphael Magyezi was granted leave on the same day to prepare a private member's Bill.

The other things they intend to challenge, some of which they did not expound on, include the decision by Speaker Rebecca Kadaga to suspend Parliament's rules of procedure during the debate on the Bill, her decision to suspend some MPs, money being given to MPs to carry out consultations, which the intending petitioners say was a bribe, among other things. Mr Lukwago said there was also a problem with the Certificate of Financial Implications that the ministry of Finance gave to Mr Magyezi to support the Bill, which he says he intends to also challenge.

According Jeema president Asuman Basalirwa, many MPs were instructed by their constituents to vote against the Bill but they voted for it. He says there is a need to petition the High Court seeking a declaration that such individuals are not fit to be MPs.

"Smuggled in"

All the petitioners also intend to challenge the retrospective effect that the law gave to the extension of the elective term from five to seven years, meaning that the MPs and local councils will next face the electorate in 2023 instead of in 2021 as the voters knew when they elected them.

The petitioners also intend to challenge the inclusion of the proposal to extend the elective term from five to seven years at the committee stage yet it was not part of the Bill, and the proposal to extend the term for local governments which came up on the floor of Parliament. They argue that a separate bill is required to amend any provision of the Constitution.

Mr Lukwago said the Constitutional Court will be alerted to the Preamble Article 3 of the Constitution, which he said was offended by the amendment and therefore "the basic structure of the Constitution was changed".

He said the Preamble shows that the Constitution's main objective is to guard against "political and constitutional instability", which he says was violated by removing age limits and "in effect creating a life presidency". Mr Lukwago that as Article 3 says, the manner in which the Constitution was amended means that those who amended it committed treason.

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