The Chief Justice, Alfonse Owiny-Dollo has said there was no evidence to pin him on being biased in handling the presidential election petition filed by National Unity Platform Robert Kyagulanyi, alias Bobi Wine as had been alleged by lawyer Male Mabirizi.
Mabirizi had requested Dollo, the head of the panel of nine justices to recuse himself from the case over conflict of interest having been President Museveni’s defence lawyer in the 2006 presidential petition but for also meeting Museveni prior to the hearing of the petition by Kyagulanyi.
However, while reading the detailed ruling for refusing to recuse himself from the petition, Dollo admitted that he was one of the lawyers representing Museveni in a case handled 15 years ago, noting that there is no evidence to show he is still attached to him (Museveni) and thus being referred to as biased.
“I find that I was under no duty to disclose my status as a former attorney of the first respondent (Museveni) because it is already in the public domain in regards the appointment process. When a person seeks the recusal of a judicial officer or any person exercising quasi-judicial functions, the objector must pass the prerequisite standard test of recusal; otherwise, litigants would abuse the provision for recusal and turn it into an avenue for determining or choosing their preferred arbiters in their respective cases,”Dollo said.
The judge insisted that whereas a person will be entitled to a fair hearing before a tribunal, it is not enough to make allegations about bias but rather present credible evidence to prove the same.
“There is need to bear in mind that judges are part of any given society and have at one time worked or associated with various members of the society. As such, any person asking a judge for recusal must do more than merely allege bias. There must be evidence to satisfy the test for bias.”
Chief Justice Dollo explained that whereas it is true he represented Museveni in one of the cases dating over 15 years ago, the same cannot be used against him.
“I think the remoteness of the past engagement balances with the need to ensure justice is seen to be done in the mind of a reasonable person. The applicant asserted that the first respondent (Museveni) has always committed illegalities and engaged in violence even during the 2006 petition for which I was the attorney. In any case these are mere statements of belief that the petitioner had to prove,” Dollo said.
On meeting Museveni, Dollo admitted he met the president during the swearing-in of one of the High Court judges, during the celebration of Luwum day and also during the presentation of the judiciary budget, all functions done at State House in Entebbe in the full view of cameras.
According to the Chief Justice, there is, therefore, no evidence to prove he privately met the president.
“These were official functions that I attended in my capacity as the Chief Justice and were held in the full view and glare of all cameras.”
Dollo explained that it is disturbing that Mabirizi sought for his CV to find fault with it.
“While on the face of it there is nothing wrong in doing so, it is discerning that it is done with the purpose of finding fault with it. That manifests a suspicious and unreasonable mind.”
He insisted that in his career as a lawyer, he exhibited an independent mind where he represented many people against Museveni’s government including the Force Obote Back Again(FOBA) and Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army rebels.
The Chief Justice noted that Mabirizi had no powers to apply to have him recuse him from the petition since he was not one of the parties to the petition or one who stood as a presidential candidate in the just-concluded election whose results Kyagulanyi was challenging.
He noted that it is a very bad practice for people to harbor their own views and think these same views are shared by the wider public.
“Their views cannot be the measure for testing bias. There are ordinary persons who are generally well-intentioned but are ignorant and gullible to manipulation. They can easily jump wagon including that driven by the first category of persons acting in pursuit of their own ulterior motives.”
However, speaking after the delivery of the detailed ruling, lawyer Male Mabirizi said he would proceed to the East African Court of Justice.