The High court on Monday quashed the suspension of Attorney General Peter Nyombi from the Uganda Law Society (ULS).
In his ruling, Justice Stephen Musota said ULS, the professional society of lawyers, has no legal authority to suspend any member. During its annual general meeting on August 29, 2013, at Imperial Royale hotel, Kampala, the Uganda Law Society voted to suspend Nyombi for alleged incompetence.
Nyombi was handed a two-year suspension and a certificate of incompetence for allegedly misaising President Museveni. Nyombi’s legal opinions, ULS said, were inconsistent with the Constitution.
The lawyers, led by Jude Mbabaali, alleged that Nyombi misaised the president on a number of controversial issues including the re-appointment of Benjamin Odoki as chief justice and the appointment of an active military General Aronda Nyakairima as minister for Internal Affairs.
Dissatisfied with the suspension, Nyombi sued ULS, saying he was tried and suspended without being heard, an act which contravenes the rule of natural justice. Nyombi argued that by virtue of section 4 of the ULS Act, the attorney general is a statutory member of the law society who cannot be suspended.
In his ruling, Justice Musota said only the Law Council can suspend and revoke a licence of a legal practitioner. He said the decision of the Law Society was just an opinion, which cannot be legally binding. Musota also rebuffed ULS’ argument that they suspended Nyombi, the individual, and not the attorney general.
“The respondent [ULS] had no legal authority to discipline the applicant [Nyombi] by suspending him. The suspension was an illegality since ULS has no legal mandate,” he said.
Musota also faulted the law society for not giving Nyombi an opportunity to be heard.
“A trial by 350 members cannot remotely be fair. The applicant’s right to be heard was, therefore, violated. A trial by 350 people cannot fail to have procedural impropriety,” the judge said.
The judge also quashed Nyombi’s certificate of incompetence, saying ULS had no powers to issue it.
“The resolution was passed in total disregard of the respondent’s [ULS] duty to protect members of the society including the unpopular ones [members],” he said.
However, Musota rejected Nyombi’s request for Shs 200m in costs because he failed to prove that he suffered from the defamation claims in his petition. Musota said instead of filing for a judicial review, Nyombi should have filed a defamation suit to prove he had incurred damages.
He also rejected Nyombi’s request for an apology from ULS published under wide circulation for three weeks in the media. When contacted, Mbabaali blamed ULS President Ruth Sebatindira for the court defeat.
“When I was moving the motion to suspend Nyombi I was clear that I wanted Nyombi to be suspended as a person but Sebatindira wrote that we had suspended the attorney general, something Nyombi exploited,” Mbabaali said.
Source : The Observer