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Justice Bamugemereire used wrong forum to ‘expose racket of mafias’ — Judiciary

In a media release, last week, Justice Catherine Bamugemereire claimed that the Commission of Inquiry into land matters that she chairs had encounter several instances of connivance by corrupt judicial officials. She said thousands of citizens had lost their land to sham judicial rulings.

COURT | Justice Catherine Bamugemereire was wrong to user a news release to communicate bits of findings into land probe, the Judiciary has said, taking issues with the judge’s expose.

Last Friday, Bamugemereire, who chairs the Commission of Inquiry into Land Matters, said at a news conference that her probe had revealed that the Judiciary was riddled with corruption, with judges  conspiring with land grabbers to worsen the land problem in Uganda.

Bamugemerire, a Justice of the Court of Appeal now on leave because of the special assignment by the President, called for severe action against “a racket of mafias in the country’s judicial system.”

But on Monday morning, the Judiciary’s senior communications officer, Solomon Muyita, said it “takes the issues raised in Bamugemereire’s news release seriously and would appreciate if they are properly investigated to establish the facts and make appropriate recommendations.”

In a news release, the Judiciary said it was “not happy with the mode of communication” Justice Bamugemereire had chosen.

“We would have expected the Commission to communicate findings of such a serious nature in form of an Interim Report to the President, not a press release,” the statement quotes Chief Justice Bart Katureebe as saying.

“The Judiciary, as well as the government, would have studied that report and taken appropriate action, including giving the officers mentioned in therein an opportunity to defend themselves,” Justice Katureebe said.

“Nonetheless, we will further study the press release and try to work on it appropriately. Any judicial officer found to have acted outside the law will be dealt with accordingly.”

Bare knuckles

In a no-holds-barred press release, Bamugemereire intimated of how her team had encountered an astonishing number of orders, rulings, judgments and injunctions entered by judicial officers that have led to eviction of thousands of bibanja holders (bona fide tenants) or giving away protected land like forest reserves and wetlands countrywide.

She recommended urgent review of all judgments issued by the courts on matters of land.

However, in the statement, the Judiciary says that on various occasions it has interacted with the Commission chaired by Bamugemeire, citing an instance on September 25, 2017, when it gave its position on some of the issues that Bamugemereire raised.

Principal Judge Yorokamu Bamwine also took matters with Bamugemereire’s attempt to lump the judiciary as one.

“Actions of a few judicial fficers should not be used to brand the entire Judiciary a culprit,” Bamwine said. “Lately, we are encouraging judicial officers to conduct judicial processes in a more transparent manner so as to enhance public trust and confidence in the Judiciary.”

One of the questionable judgments that Bamugemereire pointed out was by Justice Godfrey Namund regarding a forest reserve.

On June 28, Namundi, a high court judge sitting at the lands division, ruled that about one square mile that is actually part of Kajjansi Central Forest Reserve belonged to Eria Mubiru, Vivian Keza and Peninah Busingye Kabingani, on the basis that they have land titles over the land.

Namundi’s ruling was in spite of the fact that a copy of the Legal Notices gazetting the forest, dated 1932, 1948, 1968 and 1998, were tendered as evidence before court.

He further rubbed salt into the wound by declaring how National Forestry Authority (NFA) are
trespassers on the “forest reserve” because they had attempted to stop the encroachment, and awarded costs of the suit plus general damages of Shs200 million against NFA.

The judgement carries the import of degazetting a central forest reserve.

According to Ugandan laws, degazetting is the sole preserve of Parliament and not the Judiciary.

The Bamugemereire-led seven-member committee was instituted by President Museveni inn May last year and has investigated land issues countrywide, meeting several people as it seeks to find a solution to the land-related challenges in the country.

Museveni instituted the committee to probe land wrangles and it is expected to table a comprehensive report to provide solutions.

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