Prominent city lawyer Fred Muwema is at it again, this time round expected to hit an estimated US$10 million legal jackpot in a case otherwise seen as impossible to win.
This time, the controversial lawyer to former Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi took to an expedition of tasting toads and went for the fattest, suing and beating Facebook in an Irish Court (Ireland takes charge of Facebook’s Africa and Europe operations) in a suit he brought after ‘Tom Voltaire Okwalinga’ (TVO) in March pointed a finger at him for allegedly taking up to shs900 million from former Minister of Information and National Guidance Maj.Gen. Jim Muhwezi to jeopardise Mbabazi’s presidential election petition, which the Supreme Court threw out.
The petition was challenging President Museveni’s February 2016 election and counsel Muwema was accused of allegedly conniving with state agents to raid his Kololo based law firm and fork out evidence, affidavits and sensitive information regarding the case.
Muwema denied the allegations and asked Facebook to rein in TVO but was shown the middle finger by the Mark Zuckerberg- founded firm, whose net worth is several fold bigger than several African economies.
For a man whose career has been shaped by challenging multinationals and parastatals like the Uganda Revenue Authority, Muwema sat through his firm in the posh suburb of Kololo and hired a blue chip law firm from the USA and instructed them to take on Facebook.
The lawyers went to the Irish court with three prayers: One, Facebook bring down all content, “defamatory, malicious and false” against him by TVO, secondly, stop TVO from posting about him and lastly, reveal his identity so he can take him on at home. He lost the first two grounds but won the last which is the gist of the case that has got Facebook lawyers panicking as it sets a bad precedent that will see many Africans and may be, even governments, sue the giant American social media platform that is worth several billion dollars .
Mr Justice Binchy held in the judgment delivered by the High Court in Ireland (record number 2016/ 4637P) last week: “It appears, a person who has been defamed by an internet posting may be left without any remedy at all, unless the author is identified and amenable to the jurisdiction of the court and for these reasons I consider that the application for take down and prior restraint orders must be refused. I will however make a Norwich Pharmacal Order in the terms that I understand the parties have agreed.”
A senior lawyer intellectual property lawyer in town told the Eagle Online, that “a Norwich Pharmacal Order is a court order for disclosure of information a court issues against a third party such as Facebook that gets in the way of legally wrong actions so that an aggrieved party like Mr Muwema sues the people like TVO who might have wronged him.”
This website understands from sources close the case that Facebook’s lawyers are pacing up and about in their boardrooms to try and find a last minute solution to this case which sets an unbearable precedent against users of the platform who have long held to its privacy as an armour of protection from authoritarian regimes.
But similarly, Muwema’s landmark case is good news to government officials like Uganda Communications Commission Executive Director Godfrey Mutabazi who had severally protested to Facebook against TVO in vain. Government too wrote seeking TVO’s identity in vain.
From the judgment, one of Facebook’s arguments in defence was that Muwema is a man already riddled with scandal so he was not famed, instead, the “gin was let out of the bottle.”
But Muwema’s USA based lawyers shot down this argument, saying the lawyer’s scandals back home don’t connect to the case and he has never been convicted by a court of law in Uganda.
A lawyer close the case told us: “If and when he asks for damages and costs of the suit, Facebook is likely to cough at least US $10m and the son of a Musoga who was insulted by talking heads on Facebook will walk to the bank with a swagger.”