River Oli Division Local Government v Sakaram (CIVIL APPEAL No. 0018 OF 2013) [2016] UGHCCD 62 (8 September 2016);


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This was an appeal from the decision of a Session Chief
Magistrate at Arua, by which judgment was entered in favour
of the Respondent (plaintiff in the court below) against the
appellant (defendant in the court below).

Court considered whether the respondent had proved
customary ownership.

Court ruled that proof of ownership of land under customary
tenure is not established only by evidence of long user or
occupation, without more.

Court held that the magistrate erred when he found that the
respondent had proved customary ownership of the land in
dispute based only on evidence of a long period of occupation
and user without proof that such occupancy and user was in
accordance with known customary rules accepted as binding
and authoritative in respect of that land, proved by the
evidence adduced before him to that effect.

Court further considered whether the doctrine of proprietary

Court ruled that this doctrine will operate where the claimant
is under a unilateral misapprehension that he has acquired or
will acquire rights in land where that misapprehension was
encouraged by representations made by the legal owner or
where the legal owner did not correct the claimant’s
misapprehension. It is an equitable remedy, which will
operate to prevent the legal owner of property from asserting
their strict legal rights in respect of that property when it
would be inequitable to allow him to do so.

Court ruled that there is no evidence on record to prove that
either the appellant or the respondent had proprietary rights
over the land. This being unregistered land not owned by any
person or authority, under Article 241 (1) (a) of the
Constitution of the Republic of Uganda, 1995 and s. 59 1 (a)
of the Land Act, it is land managed by the District Land Board
with power of that Board to allocate it. The respondent is
neither a tenant by occupancy on the land since it is
unregistered land. Section 4 (1) and 9 (1) of the Land Act
provide for the issuance of certificates of customary
ownership and conversion into freehold of customary
holdings respectively, on former public land. The provisions
pre-suppose the possibility that persons can be customary
tenants on former public land. The respondent did not prove
that he was such a tenant. Does an occupier of unregistered
land thereby become a customary owner? Does an occupier of
unregistered land acquire any interest in the land by virtue of
the long duration of such occupancy only? To me the answer
to both questions is negative. An occupier who has no
statutory right to occupation is prima facie a trespasser, and at
best, a tenant at sufferance.

Court accordingly set aside the decision of the lower court.


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