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Court asked to block Uganda Law Society scientific elections

By Andante Okanya

Added 25th July 2020 02:39 PM

Part of the business scheduled is to pass a resolution to amend ULS Statutory Instruments 2016 Number 10

Court asked to block Uganda Law Society scientific elections

Ivan Bwowe is one of the petitioners.

Part of the business scheduled is to pass a resolution to amend ULS Statutory Instruments 2016 Number 10

Court has been asked to block scientific elections for Uganda Law Society (ULS), saying there is no regulatory framework approved by the fraternity.

Early in the week, four lawyers petitioned High Court civil division Kampala, saying such an election was not approved by the topmost ULS organ; Annual General Meeting (AGM).

The petition was prompted by a notice from ULS Secretary Francis Harimwomugasho, dated July 8, 2020. It is in light of the COVID-19 precautionary measures.

Polls were slated for April 4 but were deferred, after a ban on public gatherings was imposed on March 31.

The notice says a virtual (online) Annual General Meeting (AGM) is slated for August 7. It emphasises that attendance is limited to only paid-up members and that ULS Executive Council (EXCO) had ordered so.

But the aggrieved; Araali Kagoro, Ivan Bwowe, Shamim Sserubidde, and Geoffrey Turyamusiima, say the Executive Council (EXCO) mandate lapsed on April 4.

"The Council does not have the power under the Uganda Law Society Act, Cap. 278 to summon a virtual AGM such as that it has summoned to tentatively take place on 7th August 7, 2020," the petitioners state.

Part of the business scheduled is to pass a resolution to amend ULS Statutory Instruments 2016 Number 10 (Election Standards and Procedures).

The amendment sought is specifically on Section 11 to allow online elections in the future.

The complainants are also opposed to blocking non-paid up members from the AGM. ULS has over 3,000 members, with an annual subscription of sh500,000.

In May, ULS presidential candidate Nelson Walusimbi, wrote to the elections committee chairperson George Omunyokol, saying the ULS Act does not bar non-paid up members from ULS activities.

The quartet wants the decision quashed on the premise of illegality and disenfranchisement of physically incapacitated lawyers.

Glaring unpreparedness

In the affidavits, EXCO is accused of delving into an election without the agreeable technical preparedness endorsed by AGM.

The affidavit deponents also make reference to Walusimbi's petition to the Elections Committee, saying he had cited several flaws but seems to have been ignored.

When New Vision spoke to Omunyokol, he said he was yet to respond to Walusimbi's query.

In his letter dated May 21, 2020, Walusimbi cited a provision in the ULS Act, saying it grants unrestricted access to ULS members to all of the entity events.

"First, we refer you to Section 7 of the Uganda Law Society Act Cap 56, which is to the effect that no entrance fee shall be payable by any person on becoming a member of the society," the letter states.

The petition argues that Section 8 of the ULS Act is instructive on membership. The provision says membership is available to persons listed on the Roll of Advocates.

Kagoro says EXCO acted irrationally in making the decision of online elections that is alien to the ULS Act.

"Council acted irrationally in summoning a virtual AGM without the requisite Visual-Audio Link Rules, Regulations and or Standard Operating Guidelines duly approved by the entire membership of ULS to regulate online interactions," says Kagoro.

Sserubidde asserts that the ULS membership is guaranteed when a lawyer's registration takes effect.

"I do verily believe to be true and correct, that membership to ULS takes effect at the point of enrollment and or payment of the first subscription fees and thereafter, one is entitled to participate in AGMs, irrespective of whether or not they have paid for the current year," Sserubidde asserts.

Turyamusiima observes that since EXCO's term lapsed, it is only court-mandated to guide on the next course of action for ULS in light of the COVID-19 aftershocks.

"I also firmly believe that the term of office of the Respondent's Council having long expired, the latter acted illegally in taking the decision to purportedly summon and attempt to conduct an e-AGM for without the requisite leave and guidance of this Honorable Court - in light of the disruptions brought about by COVID-19," Turyamusiima observes.

Bwowe emphasises that the scientific election is unfair, and will lockout some physically disadvantaged lawyers.

"I also believe that the impugned e-AGM proposed to be conducted will operate to discriminate against and effectively disenfranchise colleagues who are visually impaired, the elderly or those that do not possess the requisite skills in Information Computing Technology - to be able to constructively take part in the e-proceedings," Bwowe states.

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