Justice Catherine Bamugemereire’s methods of work at the Commission of Inquiry into Land Matters has yet again attracted criticism, this time from her bosses; the Chief Justice and The Principal Judge.
Bamugemereire on October 26th 2018, released a statement at a press conference in which she slammed the judiciary for what she called “bogus judgements and orders” in the eviction of bibanja holders, and warned that if the Judiciary, “does not rise to the occasion, it will be captured wholly by land grabbers and used as a catalyst of untold social distress arising from pressure on land”.
The statement titled: “Press release on the presenting role of the judiciary in catalysing rising land distress, grabbing of protected and fragile areas causing landlessness and a state of lawlessness,” singled out specific judgments that gave away public land to individuals, despite the existence of the legal notices to the contrary.
In the eye of the storm was Justice Godfrey Namundi who in a judgement arising out of Civil Suit 885 of 2017, on June 28 2018, is said to have given away public land in Kajjansi Central Forest Reserve to private individuals, despite the fact that a copy of Legal Notices gazetting the forest, dated 1932, 1948, 1968 and 1998, were tendered as evidence before court.
He also awarded costs of the suit plus general damages of Shs200m against the National Forests Authority.
In a joint statement released today, Chief Justice Bart Katureebe and Principle Judge, Dr. Yorokamu Bamweine, said that while “the Judiciary, on one hand, takes the issues raised in that press release seriously and would appreciate if they are properly investigated to establish the facts and make appropriate recommendations for a lasting solution. The Judiciary, however, is concerned with the mode used by the Commission to communicate matters of such a serious nature.”
”We would have expected the Commission to communicate findings of such a serious nature in form of an Interim Report to the President, not a Press Release,” said the Chief Justice, Bart Katureebe, adding:”The Judiciary, as well as the government, would have studied that report and taken appropriate action, including giving the officers mentioned in there in an opportunity to defend themselves. Nonetheless, we will further study the Press Release and try to work on it appropriately. Any judicial officer found to have acted outside the law will be dealt with accordingly.”
The duo reminded Justice Bamugemereire that the Judiciary has on occasions interacted with the Commission, including on 25 September 2017 when it formally presented a detailed memorandum with recommendations regarding land administration and adjudication in Uganda.
The Principal Judge, Dr. Yorokamu Bamwine, said the actions of a few judicial officers should not be used to brand the entire Judiciary a culprit.
“Lately, we are encouraging judicial officers to conduct judicial processes in a more transparent manner so as to enhance public trust and confidence in the Judiciary,” said Dr. Bamwine.
The judiciary’s statement comes in the wake of another criticism of Bamugemereire’s style of doing business by Nicholas Opiyo, a human rights lawyer who said that her “attempt to re-litigate court cases at a press conference is most unfortunate.”
“All right thinking members of the legal fraternity are concerned by reported cases of corruption in the judiciary, but to sit at a press conference and single Justice Godfrey Namundi’s decision without the benefit of having heard the evidence, listen to the witnesses is an act that undermines the judicial process.”
Opiyo said that while Bamugemereire is “a justice of the Court of Appeal, the Land Commission is not an appellate court for land or any such matters.”
He further said that the Land Commission “should know too well that if the high court judge was wrong in his findings, there are appellate processes to correct it. Lashing out at a press conference is not one such process but an act cheap publicity.”
Opiyo also acknowledged that the judiciary has many problems but in seeking to resolve them, “we must not throw the baby with the bath water.”
“We have to continuously remind our learned Lady Justice to act judiciously and with courtesy to her colleagues on the bench regardless of her real or presumed disagreements with some section of the judiciary. The judiciary is a career but chairing a commission is a political appointment. The judiciary is her home and to it she will return.”