Justice Ssekaana defines contempt of Court to mean conduct that defies the authority of Court.

In the case of Sarah Nabawanuka    & Others   V Makerere University & others High Court Miscellaneous Application No. 420 of 2019

Judgment delivered by HON. JUSTICE SSEKAANA MUSA on 14th/04/2020

The Applicants are all employees of the 1st Respondent who joined between 1998 and 2015. They were confirmed in the University service but were kept stagnated at the lowest rank of M15 and M13. Despite having attained higher qualifications and job experience in a higher rank – M6, they are deployed and continue to perform their duties meticulously at the lower ranks M15 and M13. The Applicants applied to the Appointments Board for promotion, but the Respondents’ Human Resource Director illegally blocked this. They then appealed to the Staff Appeals tribunal which failed to hear the appeal within the time allowed by law, hence their Petition to this Honourable Court. On the 29/3/2019 Court ordered the Appointments Board to determine the Applicants’ Application for promotion within 90 days.  This application was filed after 94 days had elapsed since the Court Orders were made to determine whether the Board was in contempt of Court.

The Court in determining whether there was contempt of Court cited Black’s Law Dictionary (Ninth Edition) which defines contempt of Court as:

Conduct that defies the authority or dignity of a court.  Because such behaviour interferes with the administration of justice, it is punishable usually by fine or imprisonment.”

The reason why courts will punish for contempt of Court then is to safeguard the rule of law, which is fundamental in the administration of justice.  It has nothing to do with the integrity of the Judiciary or the Court or even the personal ego of the presiding judge.  Neither is it about placating the applicant who moves the Court by taking out contempt proceedings. It is about preserving and safeguarding the rule of law.  A party who walks through the justice doors with a court order in his hands must be assured that the order will be obeyed by those to whom it is directed.

In the instant case, the applicant decided to file an application for contempt as per his submissions after 94 days (01-July 2019). This would imply that according to counsel’s computation of days, they were late by four days. However, a court order was extracted by the applicants’ counsel on 3 April 2019, and there was no affidavit of service but the court order annexed to the application bearing a confirmation of receipt stamp by the University Secretary dated 5 April 2019.

On a letter dated 4 July 2019, the Board stated that they had agreed to start the process of considering promotions. This implied that the respondents were never in contempt and the computation of the 90 days had to be calculated from the date of service of the Order of Court and not the date of delivery of the ruling. This application was dismissed with no order as to costs.

In the case of Sarah Nabawanuka    & Others   V Makerere University & others High Court Miscellaneous Application No. 420 of 2019 Judgment delivered by