A court case by over 250 families who were evicted from their land in Rwamutonga village in Bugambe sub county Hoima district in western Uganda still hangs in balance following their incapability to pay 37 million Uganda shillings(about USD 10,000) in court as filing fees.
Last year, the affected families filed a case against the landlords, Tibagwa Joshua and others, seeking orders of cancellation of land title on grounds of fraud and 31.8 billion Ugandan shillings as compensation of their crops, animals, houses and household items which were damaged during the eviction in 2014.
Nelson Atich, one of the representatives of the affected families in court, says court assessed the filing fees at 37 million due to the huge compensation claim.
Atich says the affected families are too poor to raise 37 million shillings and are looking for assistance from well-wishers, adding that with the help of Justice Centers Uganda, they only paid 100,000 shillings.
Jonathan Tiyo, a lawyer from Justice Centers says under the law, failure to pay filing fees renders the suit incompetent; and they have applied to court to exercise its discretion and ignore the filing fees and regard the evictees in the suit as paupers.
Pauper suits are provided for under the law. Order 33 of the Civil Procedure Rules, provides that a person without the means can apply to court to waive the fees and permit him or her to sue as a pauper. However, before court exercises its discretion to waive the fees, it has to first make inquiry into pauperism.
In case court fails to permit them to prosecute as paupers, the evictees will have to either amend the case and seek only cancellation of land titles and abandon the claim for compensation, withdraw the fees or appeal to well-wishers to pay the filing fees.
The families were evicted in 2014 on orders of two landlords, Tibagwa Joshua and Bansigaraho Robert, to pave way for an oil waste treatment plant. They were consequently forced in the internally displaced peoples’ camps.
With support from NGOs like National Association of Professional Environmentalists (NAPE), they were able to return to their land following the ruling by Justice Simon Byabakama in 2015 that the eviction was unlawful.
Story compiled by Precious Naturinda