Repeal idle and disorderly crime from law books

Tuesday August 04 2020

I listened on July 16 to Radio One in Kampala when members of the Uganda Law Reform Commission held a topical discussion titled ‘Review of the Penal Code Act”.

They were presenting recommendations of the Commission on offences such as rape, murder and idle-and-disorderly. They sought the listeners’ opinion in regard to the topic under discussion.

In this article, I submit on the offence of idle and disorderly and I agree that it should be repealed. The crime of being idle and disorderly is created by Section 167 and 168 of Penal Code Act Cap 120 of the Laws of Uganda. This crime originates from 14th Century British laws.

Uganda received these laws when it was put under British control and subsequently in 1950 when the first Penal Code Act of Uganda was enacted. This means that the crime was partly meant to serve the society of Uganda 70 years ago. Other countries like Kenya, Tanzania have amended or repealed this Act.

The most targeted groups of individuals of this crime are sex workers, street dwellers, street children, drug users, beggars, and hawkers, among others, who may be referred to as vagabonds. Even among these, the most vulnerable are targeted.

Newspapers report huge police swoops of idlers, but little is reported on the progress of their charges.


Even during arrests, it is reported that police faults procedure as many of the victims are beaten, money is extorted from them and ordered to remove their clothes on the way to police station. Arrests are carried out without due regard to the laws that govern legal arrests. For instance, during arrests, police beat up the people they arrest, undress them and often parade them before media.

Some of those arrested never make it to police or are released without being charged after police extorting money from them.

This law is also sometimes used as a political tool. When the country is approaching presidential and parliamentary election period, few cases of this crime are recorded.

It is during such time when leaders and politicians call upon these offences to be decriminalised and direct police to stop arrests during that period. But the arrests resume after elections.

Clearly, the crime of being idle and disorderly does not address the purpose of criminal law and therefore, it should be repealed.