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African Human Rights Law Journal

On-line version ISSN 1996-2096
Print version ISSN 1609-073X


MUJUZI, Jamil D. Construing pre-1995 laws to bring them in conformity with the Constitution of Uganda: Courts' reliance on article 274 of the Constitution to protect human rights. Afr. hum. rights law j. [online]. 2022, vol.22, n.2, pp.520-547. ISSN 1996-2096.

Article274 of the Ugandan Constitution (1995) provides that laws that existed at the time of the entry into force of the Constitution 'shall be construed with such modifications, adaptations, qualifications and exceptions as may be necessary to bring it in conformity with this Constitution'. The jurisprudence from Ugandan courts shows that they have adopted three approaches to give effect to article 274 and, as a result, protected human rights such as the right to equality (freedom from discrimination), property, human dignity, liberty and the right to bail. The first approach is for the court to read word(s) into the impugned legislative provision without any deletions. This is done in one of the two ways: by either reading these words expressly into the impugned legislation, or by doing so impliedly. The second approach is for the court to strike out words from the impugned provision and replace these with new words. According to this approach, the court either adds a few words or overhauls the entire provision. It is argued that overhauling a legislative provision is beyond the mandate of the court's power under article 274 and it ignores the principle of separation of powers in terms of which Parliament has the role to make laws. The third approach is for the court to 'strike out' or 'read out' words from the impugned legislation without replacing them. Although the Constitutional Court is the only court with the mandate to declare legislation inconsistent with the Constitution (under article 137), other courts have invoked article 274 to declare legislation unconstitutional, thus usurping the powers of the Constitutional Court. Is it argued that the Constitution may have to be amended so that other courts, other than the Constitutional Court, are also empowered to declare legislation unconstitutional on condition that such declaration takes effect after it has been confirmed by the Constitutional Court. A similar approach has been followed in other African countries such as South Africa.

Keywords : Uganda; article 274; Constitution; human rights; constitutional law; modification.

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