Hearing of a petition challenging the removal presidential age limits from the Constitution has commenced today in Mbale - with the deputy chief justice Alfonse Owiny-Dollo warning that his court will rule on the matter without fear or favour.
A panel of five judges led by Owiny-Dollo is hearing the petition at Mbale High court. The other justices on the bench include; Remmy Kasule, Elizabeth Musoke, Cheborion Barishaki and Kenneth Kakuru.
The petitioner, Male Mabirizi Kiwanuka, a lawyer, is challenging the actions of parliament’s Legal and Parliamentary Affairs committee for what he calls smuggling into the Constitution Amendment (No2) Bill 2017 items concerning the extension of the term of parliament from five to seven years and restoration of presidential term limits.
On December 20, 2017, parliament passed the Constitutional Amendment Act, 2017 effectively removing presidential age limits provided for under Article 102(b) of the Constitution.
In the same amendment, parliament removed age limits for local government leaders, restored presidential term limits which had been removed in September 2005 and extended the term of Office of the President and parliament from five to seven years.
Mabirizi contends that none of these items were in the original bill as presented and sent to the committee, neither were they presented before it in form of any memoranda by the people interviewed.
Mabirizi also challenging the decision by Speaker Rebecca Kadaga to waive the rule requiring a minimum of three days from the tabling of a committee report on a bill before the report could be debated by parliament.
He also says the speaker should have given every MP a chance to debate the bill. Only 124 of the 451 legislators debated the bill.
At today's full-house hearing the first point of contention was on whether Kadaga should be summoned by court as requested by the petitioners to give her reasons for allowing the amendment of the Constitution without following proper rules and procedure.
The deputy attorney general Mwesigwa Rukutana, who represented the respondents said that the speaker and her actions on the floor of parliament are immune to prosecution. However the petitioners argued that the only person granted immunity by the Constitution is the president.
Justice Owiny-Dollo adjourned the hearing to afternoon when court will pronounce itself on the matter.
He said the Constitutional court will determine itself on this "very important matter" expeditiously and doesn't expect politicisation of the court process. He said this particular case of "public interest" and the whole country is waiting in anticipation for court's decision.
A survey that was conducted before the age limit voting titled; Citizen's Perceptions on the Proposed Amendment of Article 102(b) of the Constitution, revealed that 85 per cent of Ugandans were opposed the presidential age limits removal.
Owiny-Dollo said since politicisation was done elsewhere without any success, his court will determine the matter without fear or favour. He said as judicial officers they determine justice without fear of the consequences of their ruling because there's no person above court and their cardinal role is to uphold and protect the Constitution.
Likewise, Justice Kakuru said the matter before the Constitutional court affects all Ugandans born and not yet born and hence will be granted the utmost importance that it deserves. Justice Barishaki said the problem of being a judge is that their opinions can never be heard as they can't participate in debates on social media like everybody else but said people should be mindful of the "silent" judges.
Even on the very first day of the hearing, Justice Owiny-Dollo asked those who will be uncomfortable with the court's ruling later, to be ready to appeal the decision in a court higher than the Constitutional court.
During a victory bash in Kiboga earlier this year, President Yoweri Museveni, the most likely immediate beneficiary of the age limit removal, said the 317 MPs who amended the Constitution were "heroes" who averted catastrophic consequences for the country.