Today, the Ugandan Constitutional Court unanimously struck down the controversial Anti-Homosexuality Act of 2014 on grounds that the National Parliament of Uganda passed the bill without an adequate quorum of members present. The judges ruled that “Parliament presided over by the speaker carried out an illegality.”
According to the 1995 Constitution of Uganda:
Official Hansard records from the day the Anti-Homosexuality Act was passed show that attendance at the session did not have a quorum. This point was raised by the Prime Minister, Amama Mbabazi at one point during the discussion of the bill. Here’s a transcript of the point of order raised by Mbabazi and the reactions to it.
As is clear from this transcript, the Speaker of Parliament (The Chairperson), Rebecca Kadaga paid little heed to Constitutional requirements for voting on bills in parliament and ignored warnings from the Prime Minister that there was not a quorum at the time of the vote.
Low attendance is a chronic problem for the National Parliament of Uganda. For example, data from the Uganda Parliamentary Scorecard Project developed by the African Leadership Institute (AfLI) and Columbia University, shows that for the 8th Parliament of Uganda (2006-2011), attendance rates averaged less than 44%.
Part of the explanation for low attendance could be due to infrastructure hurdles. The current chambers of parliament in Uganda was built in 1960, when the parliament had only 91 members. Today, the parliament has 375 members. If all of them showed up for session, they would not fit in the chamber.
The suit against declaring the bill null due to unconstitutional voting practices in the Parliament was filed by a group of activists, including professors, politicians, and journalists. The petitioners also included two local NGOs, Human Rights Awareness Promotion Forum (HRAPF) and the Centre for Health, Human Rights, and Development (CEHURD).
The Constitutional Court’s decision comes in the wake of pressures from the international community regarding the human rights implications of the bill. Several Western countries, including the United States, Sweden, Denmark, and Norway pulled part of their aid packages in response to the bill.