PERENNIAL LACK OF QUORUM MEANS CONSTITUTIONAL COURT FAILS IN ITS OBLIGATION TO HEAR CASES IN THE PUBLIC INTEREST EXPEDITIOUSLY – OR AT ALL?
Posted by Melanie Nathan, July 9, 2015.
The legal team in the case of Jjuuko Adrian v. Attorney General, asks if the Constitutional Court in Uganda is taking issues of non-discrimination in Uganda seriously?
Seven years after filing a Constitutional Court petition challenging a provision of the Equal Opportunities Commission Act, 2007, the Constitutional Court has once again failed to raise the necessary quorum to hear the case of Jjuuko Adrian v. Attorney General, (Constitutional Petition No. 1 of 2009) that was first filed on 5th January 2009.
The case challenges the constitutionality of Section 15(6)(d) of the Equal Opportunities Commission Act (EOCA) as the Section has the effect of stopping the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) from investigating matters of discrimination against marginalized groups on the basis that their behaviors are immoral or socially unacceptable to the majority of cultural groupings in Uganda.
The case was first heard on 3rd October 2011 after a delay of almost two years, which was caused by the lack of quorum. Since then, the court has proven unable to write a judgment despite reminders from the petitioner, petitioner’s counsel and civil society organizations. Finally, an application for rehearing was filed and the court decided to rehear the petition since some of the judges who heard the initial petition have since retired.
The court first set the rehearing date as 1st June 2015. On that day, the court failed to realize a quorum and the petition was not heard, but instead moved to 8th July 2015. Still, the court could not raise quorum, and indicated that they would instead hear the petition in September, but did not fix a specific date for that hearing.
“We have waited patiently for seven years, and we are tired. The inability of Court to raise quorum means that Ugandans affected by this case, as well as many other critical cases filed in the public interest, cannot access justice.
The Constitution requires the court to give priority to Constitutional Cases and this perhaps places the Constitutional Court itself in violation of the Constitution. This should change.” said Adrian Jjuuko, the Executive Director of Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum (HRAPF) and the petitioner in the case.
The EOCA is intended to “eliminate discrimination and inequalities against any individual or group of persons on the ground of sex, age, race, colour, ethnic origin, tribe, birth, creed, opinion or disability, and take affirmative action in favour of groups marginalised on the basis of gender, age, disability or any other reason created by history, tradition or custom for the purpose of redressing imbalances which exist against them.”
The Petition challenges Section 15(6)(d) of the EOCA, for being discriminatory to marginalized groups, and restricting the right to a fair hearing. Because minority groups are those who are most vulnerable to discrimination, Section 15(6)(d) would tie the hands of the Commission to investigate and seek remedies in legitimate cases where discrimination and inequalities have occurred.
“Inequality and discrimination in Uganda are serious issues that warrant the focus of our Judiciary,” said Ms. Daisy Nakato, Executive Director of the Women’s Organization Network for Human Rights Advocacy (WONETHA). “We have experienced seven years of inaction. This case warrants a quick hearing because there is a lot at stake, but the inability of the Judiciary to raise quorum is holding us back. When will the State take these concerns seriously?”