Anger as Cabinet  okays bail reforms

NRM Members of Parliament attend a meeting chaired by President Museveni to discuss his proposal to scrap bail for capital offences at Kololo Ceremonial Grounds on September 28. Photo | Courtesy

What you need to know:

  • Those against the Executive decision to tinker with bail for capital offenders have warned that when the dust finally  settles, “the architects of the draconian laws will be caught by the same laws but it will be too late” to make amends. 

Lawmakers and human rights defenders have condemned ministers for backing what they have called “draconian laws” that seek to curtail freedoms and take away the discretion of judicial officers to grant or deny bail.

Those against the Executive decision to tinker with bail for capital offenders have warned that when the dust finally  settles, “the architects of the draconian laws will be caught by the same laws but it will be too late” to make amends. 
On Friday, Cabinet endorsed criminal justice reforms, among them amendments to the 1995 Constitution and the Police Act, to deny suspects on capital offences bail or police bond. 
Cabinet sources singled out suspects on murder, rape, robbery and treason charges, among others, as the main target for the proposed reforms.  
The Cabinet meeting was chaired by President Museveni, and ministers one by one were given opportunity to give their views. This was after the President asked Attorney General Kiryowa Kiwanuka, alias KK, to guide Cabinet on how to proceed on the proposed constitutional amendments.

According to sources, Mr Kiryowa presented a brief on the proposed amendment to Article 23(6) (b) of the Constitution to provide that any person accused of committing an offence triable by both the High Court and subordinate courts, shall not be granted bail until after 180 days or trial commencement, or when the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) discontinues proceedings, whichever is earlier.

The Attorney General also proposed that Article 23(4) (b) and Section 25 of the Police Act be amended by Parliament, both of which require a suspect to be released on police bond if not charged in court within 48 hours, to qualify the period as “forty-eight business hours”.
On September 25, the President sent out a tweet in which he criticised bail for suspected killers as “provocation” and promised to summon the ruling party MPs to discuss the matter and if necessary, call for a referendum.

“For somebody to kill a person and you give them bail is a provocation. It is abominable. I would like us to cure this ideological disagreement. This bail, what is the hurry? Who are you trying to please?” Mr Museveni wondered. “Some judicial officers & the police are doing things which have no connection with reality. Bail for criminals is a right? How about the rights of victims? People are being killed but you are defending criminals- suspects of criminal offences?’’  he added.

The NRM caucus was called on September 28 and MPs who sat at Kololo Ceremonial Grounds in Kampala, told the President that they understood that he likely meant well with his revived proposal, but the right of a suspect to apply for bail, pending prosecution, is a matter already settled in law. They also demanded for more time to consult their constituents and meet again.

While the President had hinted at a referendum, Cabinet didn’t endorse this decision. They agreed that the President summons the NRM caucus again to harness consensus. The NRM- leaning independents will also attend the meeting. After the caucus meeting, a draft Bill containing the proposed constitutional amendments will be sent to Parliament for first reading.   

 Mr Eron Kizza, a human rights lawyer, told Sunday Monitor that as for scrapping bail, personal liberty is inherent, it’s God-given and no man-made laws can deal away with it.
 “The amendment will be severely resisted. The architects of these draconian laws will soon be caught up by the same laws but it will be too late. The main objective is curtail the Opposition politicians using the same laws which is unfortunate,” he said. 

What Opposition Leaders say
Wilfred Niwagaba, Shadow Attorney General
Good enough our history is rich with examples of laws made with a political lense targeting regime critics and at the end of the day the same draconian laws affecting the movers first. I pray that whoever supports the law whose effect is presumption of guilt as opposed to presumption of innocence becomes the first victim sooner rather than later.

Mathias Mpuuga, Leader of the Opposition in Parliament
Mr Museveni and his cowardly Cabinet are free to dream power until eternity. That’s part of what nations harvest when you allow a cabal to seize the national conscience. The right to bail is not a contest between NRM and Opposition, but between society conscience and political self-righteousness

Erias Lukwago, Kampala Lord Mayor
That will amount to a travesty of the spirit and letter of the ideals enshrined in the international protocols to which Uganda is a signatory like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, International Covenant on Civil and political rights. It will also tantamount to an overthrow of the constitutional foundation of our criminal justice system; one presumed innocent until proven guilty. I invite all MPs and right- thinking Ugandans to roundly reject this nefarious amendment.

Muwada Nkunyingi, NUP lawyer
It is bad news for our criminal system if the State wants to erase the presumption of innocence on which bail is rooted. In essence, Ugandans will be treated as criminals before even conviction. The 1995 Constitution is in tandem with common law, and provides for a presumption of innocence for any accused person. Legislating against bail will open up a pandora box of politicised criminal prosecution and patronised sanctioning of charges with intent to keep opponents in jail. This is bad news for our constitutional order and a sad development.