The Judiciary is in the eye of the storm after some Opposition politicians at the weekend accused some judges of conflict of interest after their alleged secret meeting with President Museveni
Mr Museveni is one of the respondents in a case in which former presidential candidate, Mr Robert Kyagulanyi aka Bobi Wine is challenging his victory in the January 14 elections.
There were reports doing rounds Online that some Judiciary’s top leaders including judges who are hearing Bobi Wine’s election petition have been “secretly meeting” President Museveni at State House, something critics say, amounts to conflict of interest.
However, describing the reports as false, the Judiciary on Sunday said one of the two recent occasions its top leadership went to State House Entebbe was during the swearing in ceremony of Justice Margaret Apiny, a newly-appointed judge of the High Court.
"It is a requirement of the law in Schedule to the Oath Act for such a judicial Oath to be taken before the president or any other person authorised by the president," the Judiciary’s spokesman, Mr Jameson Karemani, said in a statement.
He said that Chief Justice Alfonse Owiny-Dollo used the swearing in occasion to present the Judiciary's Budget estimates for 2021/22 Financial Year to the President as required by the Administration of Judiciary Act, 2020.
"It is important to note that this was an official ceremony with the full glare of media coverage- there was nothing secret," Mr Karemani's statement says.
The other meeting, according to the statement was on February 16, 2021 when the Mr Owiny-Dollow attended the Janan Luwum Day celebrations at State House Entebbe at the invitation of the Archbishop of the Church of Uganda.
"This too was not in secret. We condemn such falsehoods being published for whatever reasons," he said.
The Chief Justice and eight other judges of the Supreme Court are expected to start hearing Bobi Wine’s petition on February 24, before the give their judgement on March 18.
The other judges are Dr Esther Kisaakye Kitimbo, Ms Stella Arach-Amoko, Mr Rubby Aweri Opio, Ms Faith Essy Mwondha, Mr Ezekiel Muhanguzi, Ms Percy Night Tuhaise and Mr Paul Kahaibale Mugamba.
The Judiciary’s statement comes barely a week after Bobi Wine asked three judges to disqualify themselves from hearing his election petition against President Museveni, citing conflict of interest.
The National Unity Platform (NUP) Opposition party president on February 16 named Chief Justice Owiny-Dollo, Justice Mike Chibita and Justice Ezekiel Kurabiraho Muhanguzi.
Bobi Wine says justice will not be served if the three judges are involved in hearing his petition.
“We have questions about the Chief Justice Owiny-Dollo, having been a former Museveni minister, having been a former Museveni defence lawyer and also we have seen pictures indicating that the Chief justice has been meeting with Gen Museveni on a regular basis. We believe that within the law, that is wrong,” Bobi Wine said while addressing journalists at NUP offices in Kamwokya, a Kampala suburb.
“Therefore, we want the Chief Justice not to be part of this hearing. Not just the Chief Justice, there are other justices in the Supreme Court like (Justice) Mike Chibita, who we all know was the private secretary for legal affairs in Museveni’s office for seven years. We also know that [Justice] Ezekiel Muhanguzi is a relative of Gen Elly Tumwine, a person that the national and international community has castigated for abusing human rights,” Bobi Wine said.
Gen Tumwine later issued a short video recording on Twitter saying; “I have no blood relations with any Justice on the Supreme Court panel as alleged by blackmailers. I forgive them.”
The Chief justice while hearing Bobi Wine’s application to have him file about 200 more affidavits, said the Supreme Court would not be blackmailed or intimidated by such accusations.
He said that Bobi Wine should not have run to the judges to challenge Mr Museveni’s victory if he did not have confidence in the court.
Eight judges later dismissed Mr Kyagulanyi’s application to allow him file more affidavits.
This comes after Mr Hassan Male Mabirizi, a lawyer, last week petitioned the Supreme Court seeking the Chief Justice Alfonse Owiny-Dollo to step aside for fear that he is biased because of his background with the first respondent, Mr Museveni.
Bobi Wine said the court is acting in a manner that shows they are partial yet they are supposed to be independent.
“We went to the Supreme Court to seek justice, not injustice. We want to put the Supreme Court on notice; that if this persists, we are not going to be part of the mockery. We have not even started the hearing but the court is rejecting our evidence. What is the reason? We strongly believe that the court is working with orders from Gen. Museveni. Many of our witnesses are (also) in jail,” Bobi Wine said.