What you need to know:
- The President’s lawyer, Mr Edwin Karugire, objected to the halting of the proceedings on grounds that when a constitutional petition is filed, it’s not automatic that the High Court has to halt the ongoing proceedings.
The High Court in Kampala will on November 4, rule on whether to halt the proceedings in a case in which Mr Yoweri Museveni, who also happens to be the President, sued Monitor Publications and its Editor in Chief for publishing a story alleging that people in his inner-circle had been offered early access to Covid-19 vaccines.
The submissions follow the filing of a petition at the Constitutional Court by the media company through its external lawyer, Mr James Nangwala.
Mr Nangwala on Monday informed presiding High Court judge Musa Ssekaana that the company, which publishes the Daily Monitor, has asked the higher court to rule on the constitutionality of a sitting president instituting a law suit against an individual or entity, considering the President is not liable to proceedings in any court under Article 98 (4) of the Constitution.
“Once there is a constitutional petition, the proceedings must be stayed until determination of the petition,” Mr Nangwala said. “Even if the issue at hand is amicably resolved, the issue of the sitting President to institute a law suit, has to be determined.”
He added: “The Constitutional Court is being asked to determine several issues including, whether in such proceedings, the parties can be afforded equal opportunity in court as provided for in the Constitution; whether the opposite party can file an appeal in the event that a decree is passed in favour of the President; whether a decree passed against the President can be enforced.”
Mr Nangwala cited Article 98 (4) that states that while holding office, the President shall not be liable to proceedings in any court.
He argued that it would be very hard for an opposite party to enforce a decree against the President should the court rule in their favour in the lawsuit as that would be tantamount to making the President liable to proceedings before court.
“I, therefore, implore the court to stay these proceedings until the question regarding the competence of the suit is determined. I rest my submissions,”Mr Nangwala said.
The President’s lawyer, Mr Edwin Karugire, objected to the halting of the proceedings on grounds that when a constitutional petition is filed, it’s not automatic that the High Court has to halt the ongoing proceedings.
“My lord, we oppose the request for these proceedings to be stayed. That aside, we are ready to handle the matters at the Constitutional Court whenever called upon; however that petition does not lead to automatic stay of the current proceedings.” Mr Karugire submitted.
He also expressed concern that his client (President Museveni), had not been listed as a party in the constitutional petition yet there might be legal implications that bind him too.
In rejoinder, Counsel Nangwala warned that the court should be careful while making its ruling on grounds that he has never come across any country where a sitting President can institute legal proceedings against a party.
“There will be a constitutional crisis should you proceed. These proceedings must be stayed to allow the questions determined.” Mr Nangwala submitted.
The Judge advised the parties to share any additional authorities that they may deem necessary in support of their respective submissions, before saying the ruling will be delivered via email.
Last year, President Museveni, in his individual capacity, sued the Monitor Publications Limited and the Editor-in-Chief, for alleged defamation.
This followed an article republished from the Wall Street Journal newspaper on February 23, 2021, which reported that the President’s inner circle had reportedly been offered early versions of the Covid-19 sinopharm vaccine by China.
A spokesman for the President was quoted in the story saying the report was not true.
The newspaper also published a subsequent report emphasising State House’s position that no vaccines had been given, or taken.