Constitutional Court nullifies Public Order Management Act, Trims police powers in public order law

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The Constitutional Court of Uganda has nullified Section 8 of the Public Order Management Act (POMA), 2013, saying it is inconsistent with the construction that guarantees human freedom of association.

In a majority decision of 4:1, the Justices poked holes in sections of the law that grant police officers authority to stop or prevent a public gathering.

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Justices Kenneth Kakuru

The four Justices are Kenneth Kakuru, Elizabeth Musoke and Cheboroin Barishaki and Geoffrey Kiryabwire while Stephen Musota was the only dissenting Justice.

Section 8 (1) of POMA 2013, reads: “Subject to the directions of the IGP, an authorised officer or any other police officer of or above the rank of inspector, may stop or prevent the holding of a public meeting where the public meeting is held contrary to this Act.”

It adds: “An authorised officer may, for the purposes of subsection (1), issue orders, including an order for the dispersal of the public meeting, as are reasonable in the circumstances.”

Six other organisations including Human Rights Network Uganda, Development Network of Indigenous Voluntary Associations (Deniva), the Uganda Association of Women Lawyers (Fida-Uganda), Chapter Four, Butambala MP Muhammad Muwanga Kivumbi and the retired assistant bishop of Kampala, Dr Zac Niringiye, had in 2013, gone to court, challenging the constitutionality of POMA.

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This nullification means the police no-longer  has legal power to disperse public meetings or gatherings as has been the norm mainly with opposition gatherings.

The group had asked court to declare the law inconsistent with the 1995 Constitution and in contravention of Uganda’s international legal obligations.

However, it remains to be seen if the scrapping of a section of the Act renders the rest useless.

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