Are Ugandan courts impartial?

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On March 31, 2016 all the nine Judges of Uganda’s Supreme Court confirmed President Yoweri Museveni as the duly elected President of the Republic of Uganda for the term 2016-2021. The decision did not surprise the majority of Ugandans, including those who doubted the credibility of the 2016 presidential elections.

Mr Amama Mbabazi, also former prime minister, petitioned the Supreme Court contesting the February 18 presidential election result in which he came third with a score of 1.5 percent of the cast votes.

He sought a declaration that President Museveni was not validly elected and so the elections should be cancelled.

The court’s ruling was mostly hinged on the nature of evidence as presented by Mbabazi’s lawyers.

Whereas to an ordinary Ugandan it seemed obvious that the elections were neither free nor fair and ultimately rigged, courts hold the question of evidence to be of paramount importance and can only deliver a judgement based on the strength of evidence presented before it and not in the media, or by persons opting not to appear before it.

Thus for justice’s sake, court must lend a deaf ear to all claims made outside of court even if such claims were true. What presiding judges know outside court does not count.

The onus therefore is on lawyers appearing before any court to not only state their facts and claims but also gather, organize and verify all possible evidence as relates to their claims and inevitably make a strong case before court.

The lawyer(s) must skilfully and wisely present their facts and claims based on such evidence to satisfy and convince the judge(s), with courage moderated with utmost civility and respect first to the judge(s) and secondly to the opposing lawyers. 

For Mbabazi’s lawyers, it can be said that in some instances, the evidence was scanty, insufficient, unverified, disorganized or poorly presented not forgetting instances where there was no evidence at all.

Accordingly, the evidence question was crucial in fashioning the court’s decision and this should not surprise Ugandans. Whereas public opinion and claims may seem obvious, nothing is obvious in law unless proven to the court’s satisfaction.

Of course one cannot disregard the other factors and circumstances surrounding the petition that in themselves may have dictated the outcome but on the whole the justices of the Supreme Court, owing to the evidence presented, can be said to have delivered a fair ruling.

However, the ruling cannot be taken as a truth declaration accounting for exactly what transpired in the electoral process. We may never know for sure what transpired in the just concluded elections and not even the Supreme Court can provide that certainty of truth. Nevertheless a just judgement was delivered, going by the strength of evidence presented by the petitioners.

In short, courts even the most apolitical, democratic and impartial, can only make the claim of being courts of justice but it is impossible for them to constitute themselves into courts of truth. And we cannot define our Ugandan courts as apolitical, democratic and impartial or can we?

The FDC party is currently on a truth-finding mission and thus they are clamouring for an international audit into the elections, an indication that they have probably conceived the reality of court’s inability to find and expose truth, but as to whether they will live to see their wish come to pass, your guess is as good as mine.

The writer is the Assistant Chaplain at Uganda Christian University