The High Court in Kampala has dismissed a case challenging a recent directive by the Electoral Commission suspending campaign meetings in 12 districts over the fear of the spread of Coronavirus.
Kampala Lord Mayor, Erias Lukwago dragged the election body to court seeking an order quashing its decision to suspend campaigns in Kampala, Wakiso, Mbarara, Kabarole, Jinja, Kalungu, Kazo, Tororo, Luwero, Kasese, Masaka and Mukono.
On Monday, Justice Musa Ssekaana ruled that the move by the Electoral Commission was intended to protect citizens from the deadly virus and that court could not overturn it.
“The Electoral Commission is given special powers in case of any emergency under section 50 Electoral Commission Act. The object of the residuary power conferred on the Electoral Commission under this section is intended to meet unforeseen contingencies or designed to protect the constitutional goal of electoral democracy and failure of constitutional machinery,”Ssekaana ruled.
“The decision of Electoral Commission is premised on the increased numbers of infections of Covid-19 and this is uncontested as the same could still be taken judicial notice of supported by the current worldwide spike of a new wave of corona infection which has seen other countries getting in the second lockdown. The justification depends on factual material and the respondent has established facts on which its justification depended and this court is satisfied with it.”
The judge explained that it was wrong for Lukwago to say that he was aggrieved by the administrative action taken by the Electoral Commission as the manager of the electoral process and that he should have been given a fair hearing.
Ssekaana noted that the EC was not sitting as a tribunal for Lukwago to make a complaint before the election body to be accorded a fair hearing, noting that in the current scenario, there was no need for a fair hearing.
“It is not necessary in every case to afford a person a trial-type hearing before making a decision that affects that person. Sometimes the hearing may impede effective and expeditious decision making. Even though the right to be treated fairly and justly is provided under the Constitution, it can be restricted in certain instances for example; in emergency situations and where it is administratively impracticable to have a hearing.”
“There was justification for dispensing with the right to be heard due to urgency and emergency in order to stop the spread of the coronavirus. The decision of the respondent(EC) contained in a press statement dated 26th December 2020 indefinitely suspending campaign meetings in Kampala Capital City and some other districts is a violation of freedoms of expression, assemble and association but the limitation of the enjoyment of those freedoms is demonstrably justifiable due to the prevailing Covid-19 infections in those areas.”