The chief justice Alfonse Owiny-Dollo has declined to step down from being part of a panel hearing the case in which National Unity Platform president, Kyagulanyi Ssentamu Robert is challenging the election victory of President Yoweri Kaguta Tibuhaburwa Museveni.
The panel of nine justices is headed by the chief justice himself. Although Kyagulanyi has since announced the withdrawal of the case citing bias by the Supreme court, city lawyer Male Mabirizi Kiwanuka had in an earlier application asked the chief justice to excuse himself from the case because he was a defense lawyer for Museveni in a similar case in 2006. Mabirizi also accused Owiny-Dollo of meeting Museveni at State House after Kyagulanyi filed his petition.
The Judiciairy has since defended the chief justice saying he met Museveni in his capacity as chief justice for official duties and nothing to do with the Kyagulanyi petition. In his ruling today, Owiny-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,” Owiny-Dollo said.
During the hearing, Mabirizi had argued that as a former lawyer to Museveni, Owiny-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, Owiny-Dollo asked him whether he was reasonable himself.
“Yes, I’m beyond a reasonable person,” Mabirizi said sending the whole court in laughter.
Owiny-Dollo also asked Mabirizi how he was able to be vetted 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 cannot influence his decisions now.
In response, Mabirizi told Owiny-Dollo that even if there were no such strong grounds like he was raising, he should just recuse himself on moral grounds.
“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."
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. The 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 Kyagulanyi said drove him to withdraw the case. His lawyers however are yet to officially notify the court.