Uganda Law Society president Simon Peter Kinobe has squared off with senior human rights lawyer, Eron Kiiza over the land scandal involving Mubende High Court resident judge, Joseph Murangira.
Kizza, representing over 3000 people evicted from five villages in Mubende complained to the Chief Justice against Murangira for allegedly siding with their tormentors but he also started a social media campaign against the conduct of the judge in the matter.
However, in a July 17 letter, the Uganda Law Society president accused Kiiza of referring to the Mubende resident judge as a mafia and also a member of the “troublesome trio”, a description Kinobe said is wrong.
“As president Uganda Law Society, I take exception to this conduct and remind you of the advocates by virtue of their appointment are officials of court and as learned friends, we espouse, protect and uphold the principle of a fair hearing,”Kinobe says in the letter.
The ULS president says the principle of fair hearing requires that a person should not be condemned unheard noting that Kiiza ought to hear from the judge.
“By using social media to attack a judicial officer, you violate this rule and deny the judge an opportunity to be heard.”
He says comments in the media by an advocate in personal conduct of a matter are contrary to the Advocates Professional Conduct Regulations and tantamount to criminality.
Kinobe told Kiiza that as lawyers, they are expected to jealously protect the independence of the judiciary and that by “haranguing” a judicial officer using social media erodes judiciary’s independence.
“The purpose of this letter is to, therefore, request that you pull down the said offensive posts,” Kinobe wrote in his letter.
However, in a July 18 response, Kiiza says the Uganda Law Society president has not fully understood the context under which he made the Facebook posts.
“It is pretty obvious that you are yet to grasp the depth of the pain and paucity of the people of Mubende evicted from the five villages and the dilemma the persons are trying to ensure that they get a voice – one that has been muzzled by a clogged system,”Kiiza wrote in his response.
“But I would expect you and the interests you represent to know that freedom of speech offline permeates the offline realm.”
The lawyer explains that social media is not inconsistent with article 28 of the 1995 constitution that emphasizes the principle of free hearing adding that if I was so, judicial officers would not have social media accounts.
He adds that he has committed no offense expressing his frustration with the way Justice Murangira is handling the matter using social media.
“Social media gives life and meaning to freedom. I take strong exception to the innuendo that I am a human rights violator when I have spent most of my legal career advocating for human rights.”
Kizza adds, “I am sure, contrary to your suggestions, I committed no crime using social media to give a voice to the problems of the people of Mubende evicted from five villages.”
In his letter, the Uganda Law Society president accused lawyer Kiiza of attacking judicial independence but in response, the advocate rubbished the claims as being untrue.
He argued that advocates as friends of courts of law, they should not turn a blind eye as impunity reigns.
“That should never blind them into shielding themselves and the public from the necessity of war on judicial impunity whenever its nauseating head sprouts. As tasty as judicial independence is the sweet aroma of judicial accountability,”Kiiza says.
“With calling for justice on social media, as advocates, are we supposed to only whisper about such matters in our courts and chambers?”
The human rights lawyer advises the Uganda Law Society president that the greatest house of an advocate is freedom, adding that he can’t turn a blind eye when his freedoms are being trampled upon.
“When padlocks, however, disguised, hail from the person or office of the ULS president, danger lurks. Your letter is like the sword of Damocles hanging precariously over the neck of my freedom.”
The advocate says there is a growing practice where culprits project themselves as victims that he said should not be allowed to thrive.
“We should remove the scales of formalism and hypocrisy to see the true victims and give them solutions. Your letter is drumming not for justice but procedure, orthodoxy and status quo.”
The Chief Justice recently wrote to Justice Murangira to defend himself against the allegations labeled against him.
“I have received the attached complaint in which adverse comments/allegations have been made against you. Please give me your response on the allegations against you as to enable me respond to the complaints,”Katureebe said in a letter.
In the last sitting, Justice Murangira’s bodyguard, a one Tusingwire presided over the court session after the judge who was in his chambers sent him to tell the lawyers that the matter could not go on.
When the lawyers demanded to know the next date for the hearing of the matter they were told by the police guard that Justice Murangira had asked them to inquire for those details from the Chief Justice, Bart Katureebe.