The Constitutional Court has issued a permanent injunction restraining the Justice Catherine Bamugemereire Land Probe commission from exercising judicial powers.
In an unanimous decision by the judges of the Constitutional Court that sat yesterday, the decisions and recommendations of the Bamugemereire Commission were quashed and condemned as acting illegally when the commission convened itself as a court of law in handling land disputes.
The five judges ordered that all disputes relating to ownership, use and or access to land emanating from the Land Act or any other law where such a dispute is not resolved amicably or administratively can only be determined by a court of law established under Article 29 of the Constitution.
Arising from businessman Abid petition
The ruling arises from a petition by businessman Abid Alam and his Mityana Farm Enterprises through their lawyers Muwema and Company Advocates who challenged the land probe for issuing arrest warrants against their client and the commission’s orders regarding his ownership of land in Bukompe, Mityana District.
Abid who is the proprietor of approximately 10,000 acres of land in Mubende said he acquired land between 2001 and 2004 and had fully developed it with suitable infrastructure for commercial farming.
The land probe was instituted by President Yoweri Musiveni on December 8, 2016, the and in 2017, the same commission conducted a public hearing on Abid’s land which saw many complaints raised by ex-world war service men, who claimed to have interest in the land.
“The commission of inquiry gave a directive for preservation of the status quo in regard to the 2nd petitioner’s land as it conducts a mediation between the warring parties,” Mr Abid stated in his petition.
“On November 7, 2017, the commission of inquiry issued a warrant of arrest of the 1st petitioner (Mr Abid). When the 1st petitioner appeared before the commission, he was arrested and detained at Wandegeya Police Station on the orders of the commission. He was detained from 11am to 11pm when he was released upon his undertaking not to interfere with the status quo of the 2nd petitioner’s land,” Abid’s petition stated.
The Constitutional Court ruled that the Bamugemereire Commission overstepped its powers.
“The act of the Land Commission of inquiry of exercising judicial powers by issuing orders preserving the status quo on the second petitioner’s (Mityana Farm Enterprises) land and issuing a warrant of arrest for businessman, Abid Alam, for failing to comply with the Commission’s directives and obstructing its work, were in contravention of Articles 2 and 126 of the Constitution,” Justice Cheborion Barishaki ruled in the lead judgment.
Other judges on the bench where Chief Justice Alphonese Owiny-Dollo, Justice Kenneth Kakuru, Justice Egonda Ntende and Justice Christopher Madrama.
“The Land Commission of Inquiry cannot hide behind the provisions of the Commission of Inquiry Act to justify its exercise of judicial power. This is because the said Act has to be measured against the Constitution, which is the supreme law of the land. If any law is inconsistent with any of the provisions of the Constitution, that other law shall, to the extent of inconsistency, be void,” the judgement read.
The Bamugemereire Commission handed over its final report to President Museveni a month ago, with among other recommendations, the formation of a Land Ombudsman as a forum of first contact for addressing land complaints and reliefs.