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Supreme Court stays order allowing legal representation in small claims cases

Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | The Supreme Court has stayed the implementation of the Constitutional Court ruling allowing lawyers to participate in small claims cases. In Its ruling, the panel of three Supreme Court Justices comprising Opio-Aweri, Mike Chibita, and Percy Night Tuhaise, stayed implementation of the constitutional court order for three months until a substantive challenge is determined.

“We have had the occasion to read through the application and the accompanying affidavit. We have also read through and considered the affidavit in reply. We have also perused the submission by both Counsels. We find that it is in the interest of justice to grant the interim order for the stay of the judgment and declarations of the Constitutional Court… pending final disposal of the substantive application. We are persuaded that the respondent will not suffer prejudice. The interim order staying the execution is hereby granted as prayed. This order shall stay in force for three months or until further orders are given in the substantive application,” the four-page ruling reads in part.

Last week, the Supreme Court ordered for written submissions in the case in which the Attorney General prayed for an interim injunction halting the implementation of the Constitutional Court decision allowing legal representation in small claim cases.

Represented by State Attorney Patricia Mutesi, the Attorney General was dissatisfied with the October 2021 unanimous Constitutional Court ruling on a petition filed by Israel Ssejemba that allowed lawyers to be part of small claims cases, whose subject value does not exceed UGX 10million. These cases are only handled by Grade One Magistrates and both the complainant and the respondent represent themselves.

The decision quashed rule 8(2) and 3 of the Judicature Small Claims Procedure rules of 2011, which barred advocates from small claims proceedings and cross-examination. The Justices argued that the said rules contravene the constitutional right to a fair hearing, which also includes the right to legal representation.

In 2014, Ssejemba received summons from Makindye Magistrates Court requiring him to respond to a claim of UGX 9.5 million. However, when he asked his lawyers to represent him, he was told that they are by law barred from small claims courts.

He subsequently lost the case but was also told he had no right to appeal the magistrate’s decision. He then ran to the Constitutional Court to make a declaration that the rules deprived him of his constitutional right to a fair hearing, which include legal representation. The court agreed with him and quashed the provisions.

Dissatisfied, the Attorney General indicated to the court that he was appealing the decision and sought orders from the Supreme Court had to stay the implementation of the lower court decision until his appeal is disposed of.



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