Court Of Appeal Dismisses Case Seeking To Block Implementation Of Vehicle Tracking Devices

The Court of Appeal has dismissed an application filed by Legal Brains Trust, seeking a temporary injunction to restrain the government from going ahead to install vehicle tracking devices.

The application has been dismissed by the Court of Appeal justice Oscar Kihiika. In July 2021, government signed an agreement with a Russian company, Joint Stock Company Global Security to provide digital vehicle tracking devices to all cars in the country.

President Museveni said that the tracking devices will help deal with criminals, whom he said use vehicles and motorcycles to kill people and then disappear without a trace. But Legal Brains Trust, a non-profit organisation headed by Isaac Ssemakadde was not happy with the proposed implementation of vehicle tracking devices hence challenging it before the High court civil division.

Court heard that unless restrained, the conduct of the attorney general and other persons or authorities interested in the challenged surveillance program will create a chilling effect on freedom of expression, freedom of association, freedom of movement and a bundle of other rights and freedoms, and is thus detrimental to the public good or welfare or good governance. 

But the application for a temporary injunction was dismissed with costs by justice Boniface Wamala on February 7, 2023. Dissatisfied, Legal Brains Trust through its lawyers Stanley Okecho and Roger Mugabi appealed in the Court of Appeal seeking the same orders as in the High court.

However, the government through state attorney Allan Mukama opposed the grant of the order, arguing that the implementation of the Intelligent Transport Monitoring System (ITMS) in Uganda is not a breach of the right to privacy because the system will not be used to trail ordinary law-abiding citizens, but will only serve as a backup to trace vehicles and motorcycles used in the commission of criminal offences.

Government relied on the affidavit of Hajji Yunus Kakande who indicated that the government signed a memorandum of understanding on July 23, 2021, with the Joint Company Global Security to carry out a feasibility study for ITMS, and that was way back in December 2018. 

Government added that the technical committee comprising officers from the National Enterprise Corporation (NEC), Uganda People’s Defense Forces (UPDF), ministry of Security among others, conducted due diligence on the company and concluded that it could undertake the project.

According to the government, the law permits the collection of data for national security and the prevention, detection, and investigation of an offence or breach of the law. Kakande added that although the financial model has not yet been approved, it was not mandatory for a foreign company intending to do business in Uganda to register with the Uganda Registration Services Bureau (URSB). According to him, the agreement in issue is not governed by procurement laws.

He said the implementation is not a breach of the right to privacy as it will not be used to trail ordinary law-abiding citizens but only serve to aid law enforcement in case of commission of a criminal offence “and, as such, the derogation of the right to privacy is demonstrably justifiable under the law.

The attorney general as the respondent thus asked court to dismiss the application saying that if the decision is implemented, the applicants will not in any way suffer prejudice or irreparable damages. In his ruling delivered today Monday, Kihiika agreed with the government and dismissed the application, saying that he found difficult in granting the reliefs sought more so after the government argued that the policy was being put into place to curb criminality.

“The respondent/attorney general, as I understand it, argues that the policy has been necessitated by the rise in criminal activities which ought to be curbed so as to ensure safety of the citizenry. I find difficulty in appreciating the argument for irreparable loss in the context of the matter that is being litigated,” said Kihiika.

According to Kihiika, the current status quo is that the policy is yet to be implemented and if it was to be implemented, he was not ably convinced of what loss Legal Brains Trust was going to suffer.

“In my understanding, the applicant has to show that the damage bound to be suffered is such that it cannot be undone. No amount of monetary can recompense and restore the injured party to the position he or she was before the damage was visited on the individual,” said Kihiika.

He added that Legal Brains Trust has not demonstrated the injury they are likely to suffer if the ITMS is implemented and added that he is agreeing with the government’s submission that the implementation of the system will only require persons who own cars to obtain new number plates that are embedded with digital tracking capacities.

‘The inconvenience likely to be suffered as a result of this move can be sufficiently atoned for in damages since all people who will acquire the new number plates will pay a specific sum of money which is ascertained and can be receipted,” added Kihiika.

According to Kihiika who sat as a single judge of the Court of Appeal in this case, if the implementation is done and people are asked to buy new number plates, the same can be reimbursed to all persons who will have incurred the expense.

“In the circumstances of the matter before me, the pending appeal seeks to overturn the decision of the High court which refused to grant the order of a temporary injunction.

If I were to grant this application it would amount to determining the appeal. The respondent would therefore suffer an injustice if the orders in this application would in effect determine the pending appeal. The balance of convenience, therefore, tips in favour of the respondent/attorney general,” added Kihiika.

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