“Frivolous, vexatious, and an abuse of the court process”

It is common for lawyers to plead that the suit before the court is frivolous, vexatious, misconceived and an abuse of the court process. It is no doubt that anything frivolous or vexatious brought before the court is meant to waste the court’s time, time which would be used to dispense justice where it is rightly deserved, rather than having the court attend to a matter which is merely of quibbles and unwelcome drama.

When a matter is frivolous, it does not have any serious purpose or value. When a matter is said to be vexatious, it means that such a matter is meant to cause annoyance, frustration or worry.

What the law says

Persons who often bring frivolous and vexatious suits to court may be restricted from accessing the court except if a senior judge certifies their matter as being worth the court’s time. Such a thing is yet to happen in East Africa, and particularly in Uganda. I am not sure it would even work, given that the office of the Attorney General would undoubtedly feature on the list.

A judge may on his motion dismiss a suit that does not disclose a cause of action, one which is meant harass the adversary. The court’s role is not to fight private battles, except if they involve a violation of a legal right.

Lawyers could get disbarred for bringing frivolous and vexatious suits to the court. It goes against the professional ethics prescribed by most codes of conduct for lawyers’ professional bodies in east Africa.

The stories

Never in my life had I seen the practical meaning of the above phrase, not until a Ugandan hired a law firm to represent him in the constitutional court seeking orders, among others, to restrain parliament from discussing the infamous “presidential golden handshake”. And to make matters worse, something that made my being churn with fury, is that the court, the constitutional court of Uganda, which is on the same standing as the court of appeal, presided over by the honourable (is he?) deputy chief justice Steven Kavuma (whom some equally aggrieved people on social media have nicknamed shit-ivie, the law-yal Scooby) did not find the application frivolous and vexatious, but went ahead and granted the interim orders.

Had it been done by a magistrate at Buganda Road, we would have said “these young people don’t know the law. The quality of graduates from LDC and UCU and MUK is so poor. Who issues such an order? We should increase the number of years for a bachelor of laws from 4 to 7, bla bla bla”. But this order was issued by the deputy chief justice, the second in command for the judicial arm of government.

But then again, with all due respect to Steven Kavuma, something is wrong with the way he performs his duties. It is a no-wonder that in reaction to his order, the Uganda Law Society (ULS), through its president was quick to caution against such behavior by members of the judiciary, and also pointed out that parliament had ignored the ULS plea not to approve Kavuma’s appointment on ground that he is not a man of integrity, when the president appointed him as the deputy chief justice.

Suffice to note that it is Steven Kavuma who issued the order banning the defiance campaign of Uganda’s FDC. How does a deputy chief justice, who sits in the constitutional court, issue such an order? One would think that the constitution of Uganda, 1995 (the constitution which is the yardstick for all decisions passed in the constitutional court) does not provide for fundamental human rights among which is the freedom of association, the right to peaceful assembly, the right to protest, the freedom of expression, among many others. So, where does he get the audacity to ban the activities of a political party?

It is the same Steven Kavuma who barred the prosecution of the police chief, Kale Kayihura. Doesn’t the constitution of Uganda guarantee the right of access to justice? Doesn’t the same constitution provide for equality of persons before the law?

Someone recently asked, “Is Steven Kavuma the only justice of the constitutional court?” and he is right to ask. How come all these important decisions to be made by the court end up on his desk and are returned to the public with bizarre rulings? In the near future, the Deuteronomy will feature his decisions under our column of “Did you know? – bizarre law facts”

And then, it seems he enjoys what he does. Recently (late last year), The Observer, a newspaper in Uganda ran a story about Steven Kavuma, and how he intends to evade retirement come this year (2017). It was reported that he swore an affidavit, changing his age, making himself four (4) years younger. He is currently 69, with an evidently old face, but with jet black hair! Dear Steven Kavuma, wrinkles don’t lie! If his affidavit was anything to go by, especially by the Judicial Service Commission, then Kavuma would become 65, thereby earning himself another 5 years on the bench. I hope that such a thing does not happen, for the sake of the judiciary, the jurisprudence of Uganda and for the country at large.

Everything that has been about Uganda’s politics and its involvement with the court has always landed on Steven Kavuma’s desk. It is very unfortunate luck. It has been bad for our jurisprudence. It has been what Ogoola called the rape of the temple. All those controversies have been and still are a waste of the courts time, given that they are misconceived, frivolous and vexatious. If people can be said to be frivolous and vexatious, then Steven Kavuma is such a person. What a despicable legacy he is leaving behind!


This article appears in our weekly digital law magazine, The Deuteronomy Vol 1, Issue 2 of 13th January 2017

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