High Court Judge Musa Ssekaana has stepped down from hearing four applications filed by Lawyer Hassan Male Mabirizi seeking to set aside a decision to send him to prison for contempt of court.
Ssekaana issued an order for the arrest of Mabirizi on February 15, 2022, after finding him guilty of contempt of court for allegedly attacking judicial officers using his social media platforms. He had earlier on ordered Mabirizi to pay a fine of 300 million Shillings for the same offence.
The second conviction followed an application filed by Attorney General Kiryowa Kiwanuka pointing out that Mabirizi used the same platform to belittle Justice Ssekaana as biased, incompetent and unable to head the smallest court of a family. He further noted that Mabirizi had described the 300 million Shillings fine that was issued against him by Ssekaana last as null and void, a statement which he said was tantamount to an attack on the Judiciary.
The Attorney General, through the Assistant Commissioner of Litigation Patricia Mutesi, asked the court to find Mabirizi guilty of contempt of court and be committed to civil prison. Mabirizi was accordingly found guilty of contempt of court and sentenced to 18 months in prison. However, Mabirizi filed four applications in the High Court, challenging the decision.
The applications, which were also allocated to Ssekaana sought for interim stay, stay of execution of the decision to send him to prison, a plea to set aside the jail term, and asking Ssekaana to step down from hearing the same cases. All four applications are mainly grounded on the fact that Mabirizi was never given a right to a fair hearing at the time the decision to jail him was made. Mabirizi argues that he first filed an application for recusal on February 11, 2022, but Ssekaana did not give it a hearing date.
However, when the Attorney General filed his application a few days later, it was quickly fixed for hearing leading to his conviction and sentence. He adds that the summons to appear before the High Court to justify why he shouldn’t be sent to prison, was at a shorter notice since he had a case in the East African Court of Justice where he appeared together with the Attorney General and nine State Attorney’s the following morning.
According to Mabirizi, when he sent his lawyers of Ojok and Company Advocates to seek an adjournment to enable him to prepare his defence, his request was declined and Ssekaana went on to hear the Attorney General’s applications which came much later than his applications.
When the matter came up before Ssekaana’s chambers On Friday, Mabirizi’s lawyer Retired Major Ronald Iduli later informed media that Ssekaana had recused himself from hearing the cases on grounds that he is the one who made the orders and therefore it will not be fair to preside over the applications seeking to set aside his orders.
However, Iduli has told Uganda Radio Network that Ssekaana should have stepped down from hearing all the cases involving Mabirizi before he even made the decision to jail him since his client has always accused him of bias and filed several cases against him. The files have now been taken back to the Civil Division Registrar for reallocation.
Ssekaana and Mabirizi’s woes started in 2019 during the hearing of an application challenging a decision by Justice Simon Byabakama to continue working as the Electoral Commission Chairperson yet he had not relinquished his powers as a Justice of Court of Appeal.
During the proceedings, Ssekaana told Mabirizi to submit ‘his rubbish’ after being accused of bias and threatened to send him to prison. Since then Mabirizi vowed never to appear before Ssekaana voluntarily.
Earlier, the Court of Appeal Justice Christopher Izama Madrama dismissed Mabirizi’s application seeking to release him from prison pending the determination of his appeal against Ssekaana’s orders on grounds that there was no formal appeal before the Court.