UGANDA: HIGH COURT REITERATES PROCESS AND JURISDICTIONAL IMMUNITY ENJOYED BY MULTILATERAL DEVELOPMENT BANKS

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In a recent ruling in the case between M/s Semuyaba, Iga & Co Advocates & Anor v Attorney General of Republic of South Sudan and Two Others, the High Court of Uganda (Court) has held that unless authorised, the branch office of an international corporation is generally not a recognised agent for purposes of service of court process. The Court added that where a place has been nominated to accept service of proceedings and the address for service has been given, service of proceedings on any other address is not valid and may lead to striking out of the claim.

The Court also went on to assert that international organisations enjoy jurisdictional immunity based on the principle of functional necessity that is immunity necessary to shield such organisations from unilateral intervention by member states so as to ensure their ability to function autonomously and effectively. Applying this principle, the Court held that the First Garnishee in the matter before it (a development bank) enjoyed immunity from every form of legal process except in cases arising out of, or in connection with, the exercise of its powers to borrow or lend money, to guarantee obligations to buy and sell or underwrite the sale of securities, in which cases suits could be brought against the bank in a court of competent jurisdiction. 

In obiter, the Court also affirmed the recognition and enforcement of foreign judgments and those of regional courts on the basis of bilateral or multilateral treaties or conventions, local domestic law, principles of comity, reciprocity and res judicata.

This decision ought to give comfort to Multilateral Development Banks (MDBs) operating in Uganda that as they go about their business, they will not be subjected to legal process that hampers them from operating autonomously and effectively but also that when they get judgments in other jurisdictions, these will be enforceable in Uganda if such judgments are conclusive (final),  issued by a court with jurisdiction, not obtained by fraud and not in breach of natural justice or public policy of Uganda.