The Observer newspaper of Wednesday, January 18, 2023, carried a headline titled; “Lawyers, judges berate parliament over vague laws,” in which the law-making function of parliament is put into question because of two laws challenged in court.
The story extensively cites the Constitutional court decision of five justices led by Deputy Chief Justice Richard Buteera in Andrew Karamagi & Others v Attorney General, which nullified Section 25 of the Computer Misuse (Amendment) Act 2011.
It also makes mention of the recently-passed Computer Misuse (Amendment) Act of 2022, which is also being challenged in court. It is on account of the contestation around those two pieces of legislation that the writer of the story concludes that judges and lawyers berate parliament over vague laws.
One of parliament’s core constitutional duties is to make laws for the peace, order and good governance of Uganda and these laws must be true to the dictates of the Constitution. To achieve this, parliament scrutinises government policy and administration through pre-legislative scrutiny of bills referred to committees of parliament.
All bills undergo a rigorous process of scrutiny to ensure that what is delivered to the public is satisfactory, in line with rules 18, 19, 20, 21, 22 and 23 of the parliamentary rules of procedure. Even when due care and thoroughness are employed in making those laws, it is not humanly possible for all the laws to satisfy the diverse interests of the polity all the time, however well-meaning parliament is.
This gives rise to challenges in court, like the one cited by the writer of this story, which by law are entertained by the Constitutional court for settlement. When the laws are found by court to have fallen below the standards of the Constitution, they cease to form part of the body of our laws.
This is democracy at play and our institutions, namely parliament and the judiciary, are growing the resilience to preserve our rights as a free society to have legal- political disputes resolved through a judicious process provided for in the Constitution. How, then, does that become a ground for ‘berating parliament’, simply because two laws have been challenged in court?
This simply is a case of two institutions playing their role in the galaxy of constitutionalism. It is within the right of any Ugandan aggrieved by any provision of the laws of the land to seek interventions in Uganda’s courts. If any law or provisions of law are declared unconstitutional, parliament takes on its legislative mandate to revisit and accordingly amend such law(s) to reflect the decision of the court.
In that regard, on December 23, 2022, the Office of the Attorney General tabled before parliament the Law Revision (Miscellaneous Amendments) Bill, 2022. The government bill tabled by Jackson Kafuuzi, the Deputy Attorney General, seeks to repeal 90 Acts of parliament to, among others, reflect the decisions of the Constitutional court and Supreme court over time.
In a financial year, parliament passes several bills, and if only two or thereabout are challenged in the Constitutional court, it is a testament that over 95 per cent of the laws passed by parliament can stand the constitutional test; this is not a bad scorecard, contrary to the impression the story seeks to create.
It is high time we all got used to the idea that laws passed by parliament can be challenged by citizens in court, and that in all this, democracy emerges triumphant. This is the country Ugandans envisaged by enacting the 1995 Constitution.
The author is an information officer at parliament of Uganda