The Chief Justice Bart Katureebe has expressed dismay at the approach used by the Commission of Inquiry into land matters to communicate its findings of judicial excesses in catalyzing land distress across the country.
Justice Catherine Bamugemereire, the chairperson of the Commission issued the statement on Friday, October 26, citing wanton abuse of the criminal justice system and connivance between judges and land grabbers.
“The Commission of Inquiry has encountered a rising number of orders, rulings, judgments, and injunctions entered by judicial officers which have led to the eviction of thousands of bibanja holders or the giving away of land protected by gazette as a forest or wetland,” the statement read.
She cited a recent judgment in which Justice Godfrey Namundi ordered that about one square mile that is part of Kajjansi central forest reserve belonged to Eria Mubiru, Vivian Keza and Peninah Busingye Kabingani, simply because they have land titles over the land.
“This ruling was made 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 the court. The judge declared National Forestry Authority (NFA) trespassers on the “forest reserve” because they had attempted to stop the encroachment,” Bamugemereire said.
She added that the judgment carries the role of degazetting a central forest reserve – which role is the sole preserve of the parliament of Uganda and not the High court of the Judiciary.
Bamugemereire further noted up to four court orders which have been granted over Namanve forest reserve where titles were issued on an existent forest reserve. This triggered off a stand-off between Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF) and National Forest Authority (NFA) rangers with private security guards deployed.
“In this case, the court directed the commissioner of land registration to create hitherto non-existent plots in the forest reserve. Some judges and high-level government officers have been named in this forest reserve grab,” she said.
The Commission noted that speculators who get insider information on where future projects will be situated, desire titles in areas such as central forest reserves hoping to be paid astronomical compensation arising out the infrastructural project over such areas. The preceding area is one such area bringing a convergence of projects such as the Bukasa port, the Standard Gauge Railway, among others.
However, in a press release issued yesterday, Katureebe raised concern with the mode used by the Commission to communicate matters concerning the Judiciary with the chief justice saying that the Commission’s findings would have been communicated through an interim report to the president, and not a press release.
“The Judiciary, as well as the government, would have studied that report and taken appropriate action, including giving the officers mentioned in there an opportunity to defend themselves. 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,” said the chief justice.
The Judiciary further says that it takes the issues raised in the Commission statement seriously and would and that they would appreciate if the issues are properly investigated to establish the facts and make appropriate recommendations for a lasting solution.
In the same statement, Principal Judge, Dr Yorokamu Bamwine, says that actions of a few judicial officers should not be used to brand the entire Judiciary a culprit.
“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,” said Bamwine.