Court dismisses case against govt on maternal mortality

Activists look on outside the Constitutional Court on Tuesday in Kampala after court dismissed their case. The activists said they are disappointed with the ruling. Photo by Isaac Kasamani

What you need to know:

Court says the petition has good intentions for mothers but they have no power over a case requiring analysis of the health sector.

The Constitutional Court has dismissed a case filed by Centre for Health Human Rights and Development, non-governmental organisation, and three other concerned citizens, including Prof. Ben Twinomigisha, Rhoda Kukiriza and Inziku Valente over the increasing maternal deaths.
At least 16 mothers die everyday in government health centres.

The petition was filed against the Attorney General on March 3 last year.

Petitioners through their lawyer David Kabanda challenged the government’s failure in providing basic maternal health facilities in hospitals.

They also challenged the actions of health workers in neglecting expectant mothers during pre and post natal periods.

The petition cited the example of Sylvia Nalubowa, a mother who died in Mityana Hospital on August 19, 2009, after she failed to raise money demanded by the nurses.
It also included the case of Jennifer Anguko who died on December 10, 20I0 in Arua Hospital due to nurses’ negligence.

The petitioners asked court to declare that these actions by the government and its health workers are a violation of the Constitution that provides for life and health.
They also asked court to order government to compensate the families of the victims.

When the matter came up for hearing, Principal State Attorney Patricia Mutetsi raised a preliminary objection and asked court to dismiss the matter.

She argued that the case raises a political question and with the idea of separation of powers such issues of implementing policies are a preserve of the Executive and the Parliament and not the role of court to determine the policy.
Ms Mutetsi contended that the issue as framed by the petitioners falls under the doctrine of a political question and therefore court is prohibited from hearing such a case.

The ruling
In their ruling read by assistant registrar Alex Ajiji, the five justices, including Deputy Chief Justice Alice Mpagi, Justice Constance Byamugisha, Steven Kavuma, Augustine Nshimye and Remmy Kasule, concurred with the State.
They said the Executive has the political and legal responsibility to determine, formulate and implement government policies for the good governance of the country.
The judges ruled that court has no power to determine or enforce its jurisdiction on matters that require analysis of the health sector.

“In the matter which requires any court to draw an inference like in the instant petition, an application for redress can best be entertained by the High Court under Article 50 of the Constitution,” the judges said.

However, the health rights activists rejected the Constitutional Court’s ruling that it has no competence to address the crisis of preventable maternal mortality and have planned to appeal to the Supreme Court.

Other means
The judges appreciated the concerns of the petitioners as regards what to them is unsatisfactory provision of a basic health maternal commodities and services towards expectant mothers.

They said there are other legal alternatives that the constitution and other laws provide for resolution of such and therefore upheld with the respondent’s preliminary objection.