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Constitutional court nullifies sections of POMA that criminalize public assemblies

The Constitutional court has nullified sections of the Public Order Management Act (POMA) that criminalize public assemblies.

In a unanimous decision written by justice Elizabeth Musoke, the five justices found that section 5 (b) and sections 10 (3) and (4) of POMA are inconsistent with article 29 of the 1995 Constitution and therefore null and void.  

In 2018, Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu aka Bobi Wine, together with others was arrested in Kampala after staging what was called an unlawful assembly protesting a tax on social media.

After their arrest, Kygaulanyi and others were arraigned before the Buganda Road Chief Magistrate's court where they were charged with the offences under POMA. However, on September 28, 2020, magistrate Doreen Olga Karungi referred some sections of the POMA to the Constitutional court for interpretation as they looked like they were in contravention or inconsistent with article 29 (1) (a) and (d) of the Constitution.

Particularly, the magistrate wanted the Constitutional court to interpret sections 5 and 10 of POMA. Mark Muwonge and Susan Akello, both state attorneys in the chambers of the attorney general, defended the constitutionality of the said sections. They submitted that the right to freedom of speech and expression guaranteed under article 29 (l) (a) of the 1995 Constitution and the right to freedom to assemble, and to demonstrate together with others peacefully and unarmed and to petition guaranteed under article 29 (1) (d) is not absolute and may be subject to lawful limitations.

They also submitted that, under article 43 (L), such derogations may be necessary to protect the rights of others or to protect the public interest. They acknowledged that sections 5 and 10 of the POMA constitute a limitation of the rights guaranteed under article 29 but that the said limitation is permitted under article 43.

Kyagulanyi and the group didn’t have representation. In her judgment, Musoke notes that the complained-about sections give the inspector general of police or authorized officer power to regulate public meetings including assemblies and regulations.

POMA also sets in place requirements to be met before a person can lawfully participate or organize a public meeting, including the requirement that an organizer gives notice of his or her intention to hold a public meeting, at least three days prior to the meeting. The section also imposes punishments for organizers and participants who participate in unauthorized assemblies.

In her ruling, Musoke said the cited sections in fact go beyond what is provided for in the constitution and therefore, can’t stand. 

“The fact that sections 5 (B) and 10 (3) and (4) provide for the imposition of penal sanctions on organizers and participants in peaceful albeit unauthorized demonstrations are disproportionate for achieving the intended purpose of ensuring orderly public meetings. More proportionate measures would involve asking the organizers to disband illegal meetings, failing which the authorities would then disperse the illegal meetings. It is only in the event of actual violence that it would be necessary to impose penal sanctions against the perpetrators of the violence.

She added “I would therefore find that the imposition of a penal sanction under section 5 (B) and sections 10 (3) and (4) of the POMA is disproportionate for purposes of ensuring orderly meetings and constitutes limitations that are not acceptable and demonstrably justifiable in a free and democratic society and that contravene article 29 (t) (d) of the 1995 Constitution,” Musoke held.

She subsequently declared that the charges against Kyagulanyi and others that were based on their participation in a peaceful albeit unauthorized public meeting constituted an impermissible limitation on their right to freedom of assembly, and contravene article 29 of the 1995 Constitution.

“I would make an order permanently staying the criminal proceedings against the accused persons... I would direct the registrar of this court to notify the Buganda Road Chief Magistrate's court of the decision in this reference,” Musoke held.

The other justices who concurred with her reasoning are; Fredrick Egonda-Ntende, Christopher Izama Madrama, Monica Mugenyi, and Christopher Gashirabake.  


+1 #1 William Kyamuhangire 2023-03-20 13:21
How did the DPP want to proceed using an already defective law, POMA. In 2020 the Constitutional Court declared POMA as a whole unconstitutional. Justice Kakuru in his ruling noted: 'All acts done under that law are hereby declared null and void.’

Nicholas Opiyo further noted: "It is therefore clear that the total sum of the judgment is that POMA is struck down in its entirety as being unconstitutional and of no legal effect. It also means that all acts such as arrests and prosecutions being undertaken or concluded from or under it are of no legal effect,”

With the above on record, how could the accused be brought to court and charged with the offences under POMA ?
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+1 #2 kabayekka 2023-03-21 02:21
It is clear that such judgements from the NRM judiciary contradicts the objectives of why the National Resistance Movement liberators went to the African bush to fight the Uganda People's political injustice!
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0 #3 Lakwena 2023-03-21 16:40
Quoting kabayekka:
It is clear that such judgements from the NRM judiciary contradicts the objectives of why the National Resistance Movement liberators went to the African bush to fight the Uganda People's political injustice!

In other words Kabayekka, who can still deny that the NRM/NRA going to the bush 38 years ago, was not to fight political and/or social economic injustices, but were driven by materialism through criminal gangsterism.

Otherwise, we would not be having cases of iron sh*ts finding themselves in the Speaker of Parliament and Minister of finance's compounds.
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