On December 8, 2016, President Yoweri Museveni appointed a seven-member commission of inquiry chaired by the Lady Justice
Justice Catherine Bamugemereire who almost four years ago was been assigned to head the Land Commission Inquiry on Monday returned to court.
Bamugemereire was among a panel of three justices, who presided over a criminal appeal session aimed at disposing of over 40 cases. Other justices are Geoffrey Kiryabwire and Remmy Kasule.
The first case to be heard by the panel was that of Jimmy Ssentubiro, who is battling a 35-year jail term for defiling his 6-year-old daughter.
On December 8, 2016, President Yoweri Museveni appointed a seven-member commission of inquiry chaired by Bamugemereire, to inquire into land matters.
This was prompted by several documented instances of public outcry. The team took oath on February 19, 2017, with a mandate to inquire into the effectiveness of the law, policies, and processes of land acquisition, land administration, land management, and land registration.
Subsequently, public hearings commenced on May 9, 2017, at National Archives and Records Centre in the city suburb of Nakasero.
On November 10, 2017, the President extended the probe's mandate for six months before endorsing an 18-month extension on May 4, 2018.
The probe commissioners were Frederick Ruhindi, Dr Rose Nakayi, Mary Ochan, Robert Ssebunnya, Joyce Habaasa, and George Bagonza.
John Bosco Suuza acted as the deputy lead counsel while Andrew Odiit the assistant lead counsel.
The commission conducted 600 public hearings across the country but mainly in Kampala.
The committee registered 7,767 complaints, with 50% attributed to land grabbing, dodgy evictions, corruption, and fraudulent practices.
As a chair of the Land Commission, Bamugemereire received a lot of criticism from fellow judicial officers including Chief Justice Bart Katureebe over her several outbursts at judges, which he argued were undermining the Judiciary.
For example, Katureebe once advised Bamugemereire to present her findings to the President instead of addressing them through the public.
This was after Bamugemereire blamed increased land evictions on orders issued by courts ideally presided over by her peers.
In view of Katureebe's comments regarding Bamugemereire's utterances, the court went ahead to declare her interferences in cases before courts of judicature illegal.
In one of the cases, High Court judge Andrew Bashaija ruled that Bamugemereire's commission had no power of adjudication.
In another judgment, the Constitutional Court, where she is stationed also ruled that it was illegal for her Commission to order for the arrest of tycoon Abid-Alam when he failed to comply with its directives.
Justice Alfonse Owiny-Dollo (now Chief Justice), Kenneth Kakuru, Fredrick Egonda-Ntende, Christopher Madrama, and Cheborion Barishaki, unanimously ruled that it was illegal for the Land Probe Commission to issue status quo orders and an arrest warrant for Abid Alam because it is a preserve of the courts of judicature.
"The acts of the Land Probe Commission of Inquiry of exercising judicial power by issuing orders preserving status quo on the disputed land and arrest warrant against Abid Alam for failing to comply with its directives and obstructing its work were in contravention of the Constitution," they ruled.
In November 2017, Abid Alam was arrested and detained at Wandegeya Police Station in Kampala on orders of the commission.
This followed a public hearing by the commission in regard to the 10,000 acres of land in Mubende district comprised in four separate certificates of title owned by Alam.
During the public hearing that was conducted in September 2017, some of the residents told the commission that Alam was violently evicting them from the land yet they had been living on it ever since they were born.
This prompted the commission to issue orders preserving the status quo on the disputed land and arrest of Alam.
Owiny-Dollo and her colleagues concluded that all disputes relating to ownership, use and access to land emanating from the Land Act, the Registration of Titles Act, and any other law, where such a dispute is not resolved amicably can only be determined by courts of law.
"The petitioners alleged that the Land Commission caused the arrest and detention of Abid Alam yet the Director of Public Prosecutions had not sanctioned the same. Even assuming it was true, it is not evidence of the exercise of prosecutorial powers because the power to order arrest and detention is vested in the courts of law and not the Director of Public Prosecutions," they noted.