Court stops law society from 'disciplining' judge over misconduct

What you need to know:

  • One of the lawyers representing people affeted by the Tilenga oil project in Hoima District, Mr Eron Kiiza, had petitioned Uganda Law Society to convene an extraordinary general meeting on the alleged gross judicial conduct of Justice Byaruhanga.

The High Court in Kampala has stopped Uganda Law Society (ULS) from convening an extraordinary meeting to discuss the conduct of Justice Jesse Rugyema Byaruhanga for his alleged judicial misconduct and incompetence in a decision involving Tilenga oil project affected persons in Hoima District.

Whereas ULS is the professional body of lawyers that disciplines its members, the presiding judge, Emmanuel Baguma, said the Law Society does not have the powers to discipline a judicial officer.

"This application succeeds with the following orders; an order of prohibition is hereby issued against the respondent from discussing the alleged judicial misconduct, incompetence, bias, irregularities, and illegalities of His Lordship Byaruhanga Jesse Rugyema,” ruled Justice Baguma on May 9.

He added that; “It goes without saying that the mandate to handle complaints and disciplining judicial officers is a preserve of the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) and not any other body. The respondent (Law Society) by making a decision to call a meeting whose agenda was to do what it’s not mandated to do, amounted to an illegality actionable by judicial review.”

Justice Baguma also ruled that “Judicial decisions are only challenged by appealing, revision or review and not by discussion or explanation outside the judgment itself.”

The extraordinary meeting of the Law Society had been scheduled for January 12, 2024.

Justice Baguma held that the process of convening the extraordinary meeting had illegalities.

“When the respondent received the petition to convene the extra general meeting to discuss the conduct of a judicial officer, it was procedurally fair and just that the applicant (AG) as a member of the council and likely to be affected by the subject of discussion should have been informed. Failure to do so amounts to procedural unfairness on the part of the applicant,” Justice Baguma ruled.

Mr Isaac Atukunda, the secretary of the Law Society, cited the ULS Act that allows 15 members to requisition for the general meeting by way of a written notice signed by them, specifying the objective of the meeting.

Mr Atukunda argued that since the Attorney General is part of the ULS members’ Council, he received an e-mail about the proposed extraordinary meeting.

But Justice Baguma in his analysis, said despite the Law Society sending an email to the Attorney General, he was not notified of the proceedings leading to a resolution to call a meeting that was procedurally, improper.