KAMPALA – To say that Dr. Joseph Byamugisha was a legal colossus of our times is an understatement. Dr. Byamugisha was the law. He was one of the greatest litigators of our times. A man who in the Presidential Election Petition of 2006 made President Museveni believe in Ugandan lawyers when assisted by Didas Nkurunziza, they represented him. This was in stark contrast with the Presidential Election Petition of 2001 when the President’s lead Counsel was Dr. Khaminwa (from Kenya).
First forward, Dr. Zachary Lomo and I were posted by the Law Development Centre to undertake our clerkship at the High Court Civil Registry (the square) under the watchful eyes of His Lordship David Wangutusi (the then Deputy Registrar of the High Court). One memorable morning, we were informed by the Deputy Registrar that we would be in the chambers of the First Principal Judge of Uganda the fiery Jeremiah Herbert Ntabgoba (RIP). We meekly entered the chambers at 9:00 a.m, the clerk called the first file, Danze Enterprises Ltd Vs Uganda Revenue Authority.
“I am Dr. Joseph Byamugisha”; bellowed a voice. My tax lecturer at the then Faculty of Law, Mak, Prof. David Justin Bakibinga was representing URA. I hardly comprehended the proceedings since it was my first time to appear in a live Court not the moot courts at LDC. The arguments became so tense and I only recollect Dr. Byamugisha telling his colleague that; “the Law is up” (pointing at the upper floor where the High Court Library is situated). I then heard another scary statement; “it’s not my role to teach professors the basics of law”. I almost jumped out of the chambers. Later I quivered to Zach; “shall we manage practice”. That was the first interaction I had with Dr. Byamugisha.
Later, we started our practice, Lukwago, Alaka & Co. Advocates. We received joint instructions with Mwesigye Rukutana & Co. Advocates to represent Concorp International. That morning we had a matter between Concorp International and UCB (now Stanbic bank). It was an application for an interim order before Justice Stella Amoko Arach (as she then was). Senior Counsel Rukutana instructed me to handle the matter since he had some matter in the Supreme Court.
I appeared and found a full chamber and occupied one of the seats. For UCB then was Mr. Masembe Kanyerezi assisted by a young lawyer called Mpanga David. I remember Mr. Andrew Kasirye was in Court but I think for another matter. Okuni the Court Clerk called the file. Mr. Masembe started whizzing while introducing himself and his team and it is at that point that I saw Dr. Byamugisha entering the chambers. Justice Stella Arach stopped the proceedings and directed me to leave the seat for Dr. Byamugisha. I was so shocked and in awe. I retorted; “My Lord, this is my application and I represent the applicants, if I leave the seat to Dr. will I represent my client while standing?”.
Her Lordship then told the clerk Okuni to get a chair for Dr. Byamugisha. Proceedings were stopped until Dr. got a chair, I was squeezed behind the Respondent’s lawyers. Now came the period of the baptism of fire. I hardly got time to talk in Court, Dr. took over the proceedings, I was forgotten and became a spectator in my own application. Any time I tried to talk, I would be shut up by a barrage of several submissions until the Judge seeing how helpless I was intervened to save me. I got a sigh of relief and begun submitting. When the Judge allowed my application in the afternoon, you could not imagine the sheer joy I got. His Worship Lukwago (now Lord Mayor) celebrated for almost a week. Then later we had other matters and we became real friends.
I came to appreciate the humane and friendly nature of Dr. Byamugisha in the case of COWE vs BOU. At the High Court, I got Judgment in my favour. In the Court of Appeal, Dr. rolled me in the proverbial mud. I was so shocked when I lost the Appeal that I knocked on the gate of the Court. Later I went to his chambers and narrated my earlier experience with him. We had hearty laughter and that is when I knew that the legal colossus was so friendly.
He took off time and told me his life story. He shocked me further that there was a time he was staying in Namuwongo when there was no road from Namuwongo to the city center. He encouraged me and told me that I was a brilliant young lawyer who would make it. That I should not be afraid and that I should always consult Bullen and Leak and Spry. We became friends and from that point onwards I saw a dependable man, a man who loved young people.
It’s sad that we have lost a friendly, straightforward, inspirational, courageous man. One of the greatest litigators of our times.
Rest thee well Dr. Byamugisha, rest thee well “The Law”. You lived a meaningful life that we admired.
Caleb Alaka – Advocate