Arusha, 10th August 2018, The Attorney General of Uganda has withdrawn an appeal filed on 4th January 2018 at the East African Court of Justice in Arusha Tanzania challenging the decision of the court of First Instance allowing the Media Legal Defence Initiative and 19 other Organizations to be joined as amici curiae (friends of Court). The decision was passed on 20th September 2017.
In a unanimous decision, both parties (Attorney General of Uganda and MLDI & Others) agreed to have the matter withdrawn on 8th August 2018.
“By consent of both parties, we have agreed to have the appeal withdrawn,’ said Atwiine Jeffrey, Senior State Attorney.
The parties also agreed to withdraw Consolidated Applications No.1 and 2 seeking to strike out the appeal since it was filed out of time and extension of time to serve the Record of Appeal & the Memorandum of Appeal respectively. Application No. 1 was filed by Media Legal Defence Initiative and Application No.2 was filed by the Attorney General of Uganda.
During the court appearance, Nicholas Opio, counsel in the main reference raised concern arguing that in all proceedings arising from the main reference (Reference No. 16 of 2014), he has not at all times been served with pleadings arising from the main reference save for only hearing notices.
He was also concerned that the case had dragged for four years without hearing due to the numerous applications and therefore prayed for an expeditious disposal of the matter.
He was however advised by court to raise such concerns at the trial court (court of First Instance). Court was presided over by Justices, Dr. Emmanuel Ugirashebuja- President, Liboire Nkurunziza- vice president, Emmanuel M. Rutakangwa, Aaron Ringera and Geoffrey Kiryabwire.
Attorney General of Uganda was represented by Counsel Jeffrey Atwiine and Nabasa Charity, MLDI & Ors were represented by Nelson Ndeki while Nicholas Opio represented the Late Ronald Ssembuusi.
In December 2014, the late Ronald Ssembuusi filed a Reference at the East African Court of Justice challenging the continued use of criminal defamation provided for under section 179 & 180 of the Penal Code Act of Uganda. This was after he was sentenced to one year in prison or pay a fine of one million Uganda shillings by a magistrate’s court in Kalangala for defaming the former L.C V Chairman of Kalangala District, Daniel Kikoola.
On 10th June 2015, MLDI and other 19 organizations lodged application no.4 of 2015 seeking leave to be joined as friends of court to reference no. 16 of 2014.
On 28 June 2016, the first instance division delivered its ruling granting the applicants leave to be joined to reference no. 16 of 2014 as amici curiae.
The Attorney General filed appeal no. 3 of 2016 against the ruling of the first instance division dated 28th June 2016. On 26 may 2017, the Appellate division quashed and set aside the ruling of the first instance division. The matter was referred back to the First Instance Division to consider the issues raised by the Attorney General.
In a fresh ruling dated 20th September 2017, the first instance division granted MLDI & Other Organisations leave to join to Reference 16 of 2014 as amici curiae and to submit a joint amicus brief restricted to issues within the amici curiae’s mandate and of specific relevance to the Reference with no order as to costs.
Attorney General again appealed against the decision. The appeal was withdrawn on 8th August 2018.
Other organizations that applied to be joined as amici curiae are: Africa Freedom of Information Centre(AFIC), Article 19 Eastern Africa, Centre for Human Rights of the University of Pretoria, Centre for Media Studies and Peace Building, Centre for Public Interest Law, Committee to Protect Journalists, Foundation for Human Rights Initiative, Freedom of Expression Institute, Ghanaian PEN Centre, Human Rights Network-Uganda, Media Council of Tanzania, Media Rights Agenda, Media Institute of Southern Africa, Pan African Lawyers Union, PEN International, PEN Sierra Leon, PEN South Africa, PEN Uganda and World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers.