In a ruling delivered on 7 December 2020, the Supreme Court in Uganda (Court), held that the Court of Appeal is the last appellate court in labour matters arising from the Industrial Court. This decision was in DFCU BANK LTD vs DONNA KAMULI; Civil Application No. 29 of 2019 arising from Supreme Court Civil Appeal No. 01 of 2019.
The Industrial Court is a specialised labour court which was established by Article 129 (d) of the Constitution and Section 7(1) of the Labour Dispute (Arbitration and Settlement) Act, 2006.
It was introduced to reduce case backlogs and ensure timely and fair disposal of labour disputes.
Donna Kamuli (Kamuli) filed a memorandum of claim against Dfcu Bank Ltd (Dfcu) in the Industrial Court for a declaration that her termination was wrongful and unfair.
The Industrial Court determined the matter in favour of Kamuli, but Dfcu then filed an appeal in the Court of Appeal seeking an order that the judgement be set aside.
The Court of Appeal decided in favour of the Dfcu after which Kamuli filed a notice of appeal to the Court. In response Dfcu filed an application seeking an order to strike out the Kamuli notice of appeal on grounds that it was not provided for in law.
For an applicant to succeed under Rule 78 of the Court rules, which provides for striking out an appeal, the applicant must satisfy one or two or all of the following: that no appeal lies, that all essential steps in the proceedings have been taken, and taken within the prescribed time.
In this application, Dfcu filed the application on the ground that no appeal lay as of right to the Court. The issue for determination then by the Court was whether the Court had the jurisdiction to entertain the appeal.
The Court held that a right of appeal is a creature of statute and therefore an appellant must appeal under a specified provision of the law.
The panel of five judges disagreed with the supposition that the Industrial Court, having concurrent jurisdiction with the High Court, made it the High Court and therefore inferred an automatic right of appeal to the Court.
Further, the Court held that if Parliament had intended to confer appellate jurisdiction on the Court in matters originating from the Industrial Court, it would have explicitly stated so under the law as it did for appeals emanating from the Industrial Court to the Court of Appeal.
The judgement is critical in Uganda's jurisprudence in so far as it reinforces the supreme principle that an appeal is a creature of statue as was held in the landmark case of ATTORNEY GENERAL vs SHAH (1971) EA and buttresses the importance of procedural law.
It underscores the importance of the Industrial Court as a specialised court with the ability to dispense labour matters and bringing a swift end to litigation.
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