Uganda: Age Limit - Govt Team Faces Tough Day in Court

Government lawyers led by the deputy Attorney General Mwesigwa Rukutana consult during the age limit petition in Mbale.

Mbale — The government lawyers led by Deputy Attorney General Mwesigwa Rukutana and Solicitor General Francis Atoke yesterday faced a rough tide in the Constitutional Court as they defended the Constitution amendment, which removed the presidential age limit.

The legal team ran into the rugged terrain in the morning proceedings when Ms Christine Kaahwa, the Director of Civil Litigation, was told by Justice Kenneth Kakuru to stop interjecting in the judges' guidance to the lawyers in the case.

Ms Kaahwa had sought to make an application to have an affidavit of Mukono Municipality MP Betty Nambooze thrown out of court on account that it was filed late. Ms Nambooze swore an affidavit supporting the petition.

"I know you are the Director of Civil Litigation but you are just a counsel for the respondent (Attorney General), so you don't need to direct court," Justice Kakuru told Ms Kaahwa and the courtroom briefly went mute.

However, Deputy Chief Justice Alfonse Owiny-Dollo defused the situation when he allowed all affidavits for both government and the petitioners, which were filed late.

Court then summoned MP Nambooze to appear next Tuesday for cross-examination.

Court made it clear that the cross-examination will purely be on Ms Nambooze's injuries she suffered during the melee in Parliament last year as MP Raphael Magyezi was tabling the age limit Bill.

Ms Nambooze was injured in the stampede when security operatives stormed the national assembly building. She was taken for treatment abroad.

"It is also our submission that Parliament of Uganda followed all the laws and procedures and, therefore, the Constitution was dully amended. The Speaker of Parliament acted within laws, the MPs too," the government's lead counsel, Mr Rukutana, told court yesterday.

"We shall demonstrate that the petitions are unfounded, frivolous and we shall apply that each one of them be dismissed with costs to the respondent," he added.

Later, Mr Atoke took over the government submissions, especially about the extension of the Parliament's five-year term to seven years. Justice Kakuru told the legal team that it appeared the MPs did not create a new term for Parliament but instead extended it.

In reply, a visibly agitated Rukutana said: "It all depends on how one perceives it. If you want to perceive it as an extension of a five-year term, so be it. The new term takes effect from the date the MPs were sworn-in in 2016 and that was perfect."

Judges' concerns

Justice Dollo questioned the purpose of the Odoki Constitutional Review Commission whose people's views formed the basis for making of the 1995 Constitution and the subsequent Ssempebwa commission if someone can just stand up on the floor of Parliament and change everything.

The justices also asked the Attorney General's team why government shied away from taking over the Constitution Amendment Bill and left it to be a Private Member's Bill by Mr Magyezi but kept funding it.

"Why hide your face and only leave your hands to be seen? You used government's money to finance this [Private Member's] Bill, why didn't government take it over?" Justice Dollo asked.

In response, Mr Rukutana said government did not find it necessary to take over the Bill but chose to support it.

Justice Dollo said it would appear when MPs were given leeway to determine their emoluments they thought they could use the same power to extend their term in office.

Mr Rukutana insisted Parliament was right and has power to extend its term of office. The government team faced such a rough tide during the submissions that at one point Ms Kaahwa pleaded with the justices that they were "over-bombarding" them with questions and many interjections, thus disorganising the flow of their submissions.

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