What you need to know:
The court’s decision settled a 27-year-old land dispute between Mr Kavuya and seven others, who had accused him of fraudulently acquiring certificates of title, occupying and developing the said land into a farm
The Court of Appeal has overturned a decision by Masaka High Court canceling businessman Ben Kavuya’s ownership of more than 714 hectares of land located in Kabula, Lyantondde District.
The court’s decision settled a 27-year-old land dispute between Mr Kavuya and seven others, who had accused him of fraudulently acquiring certificates of title, occupying and developing the said land into a farm.
The seven, who are the respondents in this appeal include Byaruhanga Kasirye and Godfrey Kato suing as the administrator of the estate of the late Bulasio Kamanzi; and James Nzabamwita and James Rebero suing as administrators of the estate of the late Gelvas Nyiringabo.
Others are Edward Rutaaba, Robert Kamunini and Yosam Mugisha suing as administrators of the estate of the late Samwiri Rwitirinya.
In a unanimous decision, the three-member panel led by Justice Cheborion Barishaki ruled that the respondents were not entitled to any reliefs sought as their inaction had vested the title by adverse possession in favour of the appellant (Kavuya). Other justices are Christopher Madrama and Irene Mulyagonja.
The respondents had accused Mr Kavuya of fraudulently acquiring their land without purchasing it from the original owners or their legally appointed administrators of their estates thus sought the cancellation of his titles, eviction, and paying them damages.
“The claims made by the respondents were barred in law as there were no boundary disputes on the land, which means they (respondents) had no contention over the land occupied by the appellant,” the judges ruled.
Court further ruled that there is no evidence on record that any of the respondents’ predecessors in title raised the issue of fraud or challenged the decision of the Land Tribunal and High Court and to purport to overturn it was in excess of exercise of their power.
However, court faulted High Court judge Victoria Nkwanga for penalising Mr Kavuya to pay Shs200m in damages to the respondents yet she had already found that equity helps the vigilant and not the indolent.
“This statement clearly showed that it would be inequitable to order Mr Kavuya compensate the respondents for developments on land affected under their watchful eye but decided to sit on their rights,” court ruled.
Court further faulted the lower court for having ordered the cancellation of Mr Kavuya’s titles yet the same court had already ordered an equivalent compensation in monetary terms for the suit land, damages and costs.
But court also ruled that Mr Kavuya fraudulently acquired registration on the suit land. However, the failure by the respondents to take action within the statutory period of 12 years conferred Mr Kavuya’s title by adverse possession.
The court ordered the Commissioner of Land registration to rectify Mr Kavuya’s certificates of title by reducing it from 714 acres to 472 hectares after establishing that his title was registered in excess of 241 hectares that did not belong to him.