An application to stay/halt court proceedings in respect of a suit filed by President Yoweri Museveni against the Daily Monitor Newspaper pending the determination of a constitutional petition filed by the newspaper’s lawyers Counsel James Nangwala and Counsel Mugweri Nangwala has been denied by Justice Musa Ssekaana at High Court Kampala.
The background of this case is that the plaintiff, Yoweri Kaguta Museveni through his lawyer, Edwin Karugire of K & K Advocates sued Monitor Publications Limited, the company that owns the Daily Monitor Newspaper and the editor in chief (defendants) of the publication for defamation.
On 23rd February 2021, a story was ran by the Daily Monitor newspaper entitled “Museveni inner circle Got Covid Jabs – US Paper.”
The story which is still available online was based on a report by the US Newspaper, Wall Street Journal and claimed that; “People close to President Museveni have reportedly received jabs of China’s Sinopharm Covid-19 vaccine months ahead of health workers and other vulnerable groups.”
The substance of the story was that members of the President’s ‘inner circle’ were secretly vaccinated against Covid-19 before the then priority groups of frontline health workers.
President Museveni claims in his suit that this is not true and that it is soiling his reputation before right thinking members of the society.
The President argues the story presented him as a dishonest person who has abused his office as head of state.
– article continues after AD below-
“It were understood to mean that the plaintiff has abdicated his duties and obligations to frontline health workers fighting COVID-19 and other groups that are vulnerable to the pandemic. The plaintiff cannot be trusted with the high office of the President of the Republic of Uganda” Museveni’s suit reads, according to the Observer.
Monitor Publications Limited filed a constitutional petition challenging the constitutionality of the suit given the president is clothed with constitutional immunity from being sued.
The newspaper wonders whether there will be equality between the parties to the suit considering the plaintiff is the president of Uganda who can’t be sued since legally the right to sue comes along with the right to be sued.
They also want the constitutional court to find out if the president can actually file proceedings in court.
They pleaded with the High Court to await the determination of the constitutional petition before the defamatory suit is set down for hearing.
In his ruling, Justice Ssekaana Musa stated that granting the application to stay proceedings would encourage litigants to delay proceedings by rushing to file proceedings in the Constitutional Court and this would clog the constitutional court where the petitions would be filed but also the High Court because the cases before it would be brought to a halt yet filings continue daily.
This would in turn promote case backlog.
” The defendants’ counsel’s argument that the filing of a constitutional petition should result in automatic stay of proceedings in the lower court would be abused by lawyers or litigants who intend to frustrate the hearing. The Court’s power to exercise discretion to stay court proceedings before it can be exercised judicially and in public interest. The same should not be used to cause delay hearings or incovenience to the other party or result in public mischief.” The Judge ruled.
Writing to make it right, Lydia Etii Ajwang is a Lawyer in Private Practice.