AG hits out at Law Society over Museveni letter to Chief Justice

Attorney General Kiryowa Kiwanuka appears before the Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Committee at Parliament on July 25, 2023. PHOTO | DAVID LUBOWA

What you need to know:

  • The chief government legal adviser says the letter was from one principal to another and the lawyers should not get involved.

Attorney General Kiryowa Kiwanuka has lashed out at a section of members of the Uganda Law Society (ULS) for planning to convene an extraordinary general meeting to discuss what they described as an attack on judicial independence by the Executive.

The lawyers, who called the meeting, were incensed by President Museveni’s December 7 letter, directing  Chief Justice Alfonse Owiny-Dollo to intervene in the then looming sale of Muslim properties, including the land on which the national mosque at Old Kampala sits.

But the chief government legal adviser said the December 7 letter was from one principal to another and the lawyers should not get involved.

.“Again, we have had a lot of excitement about a communication between the President and the Chief Justice; with the Law Society sitting to discuss, discuss what? This was a communication between one arm of the State and another,” Mr Kiwanuka said during the opening of the new Law Year in Kampala on Friday.

“If the law society has a legal mandate, as always we say to communicate our grievances to the Judiciary, why doesn’t the Executive have a right to communicate its grievances?  Let us know how far we must go,” he added.

Over the past week or so, a section of aggrieved members of the law society had compelled their leadership led by Mr Bernard Oundo to convene an extraordinary general meeting over the letter.
According to the aggrieved lawyers, the President’s letter amounted to an attack on the independence of the Judiciary.

The planned meeting was, however, stopped by the High Court in Kampala last week, on account that its resolutions would have been illegal.

Chief Justice Alfonse Owiny-Dollo with Vice President Jessica Alupo at the opening of the new Law Year in Kampala on February 9, 2024 . PHOTO/COURTESY

Speaking at the Friday event, the Chief Justice also criticised lawyers whom he said have made it a habit to belittle judicial officers over their court decisions.

He said no amount of intimidation will make them render justice out of fear.

“The Judiciary of Uganda, which I have the privilege to head, will always render justice in accordance with the oath we took. We will not be intimidated, in other words, we will never render justice out of fear…,” the CJ said.

He added: “In fact, even if you bought a full page in the New Vision or Daily Monitor to criticise a judge for a decision he/she has rendered; if you appeared before the Chief Justice tomorrow, he will prove to you that he bears no ill will because of what you think about him….” The president of the Uganda Law Society in his remarks criticised Mr Museveni’s letter to the head of the Judiciary, branding it as an attack on judicial independence.

“In a recent letter dated December 7, 2023, the President wrote to the Chief Justice giving instructions on a case in the Court of Appeal, while Your Excellency, we agree that the President has and its within his powers to disagree with a court decision, we appeal that for the independence of the Judiciary, there shouldn’t be any sort of direction from the fountain of honor,” Mr Oundo said.
He added: “These letters erode public confidence in the Judiciary and, therefore, we call all actors from the government to respect judicial independence.”

Some of the judges who attended the opening of the new Law Year in Kampala on February 9, 2024. PHOTO/HANDOUT . 

In his speech read by Vice President Jessica Alupo, Mr Museveni urged judges to do refresher courses to abreast themselves with the latest skills to enable them effectively adjudicate emerging sophisticated crimes arising from technological advancement.

Mr Museveni named such sophisticated rising crimes as money laundering, terrorism financing, trafficking in persons, and smuggling in wildlife and wildlife products.

“I want to encourage judicial officers, the state attorneys, police, prison staff, and advocates, among other stakeholders, to build capacity and acquire knowledge and skills in emerging sophisticated crimes arising from technological advancement and globalisation of human activities,” he said.