KAMPALA – The Chief Justice Alfonse Owiny-Dollo has declined to step down from a panel hearing the case in which National Unity Platform president Kyagulanyi Ssentamu Robert is challenging the victory of Yoweri Kaguta Tibuhaburwa Museveni in the January 14th presidential election.
The panel of nine Justices is headed by the Chief Justice himself.
In an application filed by city lawyer Male Mabirizi Kiwanuka asking Dollo to step down because he is a former lawyer to Museveni in a similar case in 2006, Dollo did not immediately give the reasons why he was refusing to recuse himself from hearing the petition.
“I have listened carefully to the submissions by the applicant, well argued, for the reasons I will give in my detailed ruling to be delivered on notice, I decline to recuse, I find no merit in the application,” Dollo said.
During the hearing, Mabirizi had argued that as a former lawyer to Museveni, Dollo couldn’t possibly be just to the petitioners. “I have said since My Lord was a hired lawyer, ask any reasonable man, they will tell you that a former lawyer can’t try his client,” Mabirizi argued. “I don’t have any personal grudge against you. I have no grudge about your capacity. I have actually won several cases before you.”
When Mabirizi talked about a reasonable person, Dollo asked him whether he was reasonable himself. “Yes I’m beyond a reasonable person,” Mabirizi said sending the whole court in laughter.
Dollo also asked Mabirizi how he was able to be confirmed by parliament as Chief Justice well knowing that he was a lawyer for Museveni in the 2006 case. He wondered whether 2006 is not far long a time that what happened then can influence his decisions now.
In response, Mabirizi told Dollo that even if there were no such strong grounds like he was raising, he should still recuse himself. “I’m saying that there’s no vindication against the judge but for the sake of the public, you should recuse yourself even if there are no grounds for recusal,” Mabirizi said. “The moment someone says that recuse, you must go to give the public a feel of court.”
Today’s application comes amidst new developments in the case as yesterday, Kyagulanyi told a press conference in Kampala that he had given instructions to his lawyers to withdraw the case.
However by the time of filing this story, the lawyers had yet to file any application to that effect.
Meanwhile, court also heard Mabirizi’s other application demanding that it reviews its decision declining to grant leave of court to Kyagulanyi to amend his petition and introduce new grounds on which to challenge Museveni’s victory. Judgement will be given on notice.
About two weeks ago, court dismissed the application without giving any reasons. The two dismissals [including one to file evidence beyond the agreed time] and complaints about the impartiality of the judges is what drove Kyagulanyi to order his lawyers to withdraw the petition.