Lawyers, activists disagree with Museveni’s push to scrap bail

President Museveni. PHOTO/FILE 

What you need to know:

  • The Chief Justice and the members of the NRM Parliamentary Caucus also disagreed with the President.

Legal experts and human rights activists have dismissed President Museveni’s push to scrap court bail for suspected capital offenders and renew the mandatory death penalty for convicted murders. 

In a televised address on Friday, President Museveni expressed his determination to scrap bail for suspected capital offenders and reinstate the mandatory death penalty despite having disagreed on the subject with the Chief Justice Alfonse Owiny-Dollo and the members of the National Resistance Movement (NRM) Parliamentary Caucus last week. 

Mr Museveni based his argument on the assertion that lenient sentences such as life imprisonment have encouraged crime while provisions such as bail leave victims clamouring for justice. 

“People have been killed and instead of defending them, you are defending the criminals. The suspected criminals…it is a suspect of a serious offence, look at his rights but also the rights of the victim. We did not fight so that our people are killed with impunity,” Mr Museveni said. 

He added: “It is life for life, a tooth for a tooth unless you are forgiven for some reason…no impunity. Therefore, we are continuing to discuss this, no one will stop us.”

The President said rendering bail at the discretion of judges annoys Ugandans, who may not differentiate between bail and being released, adding that this could lead to increase in cases of mob justice.

“All the stakeholders are discussing this issue of bail, we shall discuss it and get a solution. It will not be used as a cover to protect criminals, no. Somebody has killed a person, life imprisonment but the person you killed is not in prison, he is in the grave. For you, you want to remain in that hotel prison for life, why don’t you ensure equality in action, you killed, and you must be killed. 

He also reiterated his push to scrap police bond for suspected capital offenders.
However, Dr Livingstone Ssewanyana, the executive director of the Foundation for Human Rights Initiative (FHRI), says this will undo the progress made in the rule of law and protection of human rights. 

“The President is misguided when he pushes for [the] scrap[ping of] bail and impose the death penalty in this country. Investigations take too long and such people are likely to suffer harm. Arrests take place without evidence. We do not have a time frame within which a trial has to be concluded, so once you are charged and remanded, the trial can take forever,” he said.

Dr Ssewanyana said there are conditions in place to regulate judicial officials before bail is granted 
“Courts take into serious consideration very many factors before they grant bail, especially in capital offences. They look at the nature of the offence committed, the offender, and whether this person will report having given bail. That discretion should not be removed because it takes away judicial independence,” he said.

According to Dr Ssewanyana, the death penalty is not an effective deterrent to crime, and many countries, including South Africa, Burundi, and Rwanda have abolished the punishment.

Prof Ogenga Latigo, a politician, also questioned why the President has become vocal about the scrapping of bail when two Opposition legislators are fighting for their freedom. 
Prof Latigo says the President is harbouring a political agenda, to use bail denial to keep his opponents locked away. 

“The unfortunate thing is that over the years there are so many murderers who were given bail and the President never talked about it. His objective is political; it is nothing to do with bail,” he said.

Human rights lawyer Eron Kiiza said the President  is neither understanding nor solving the problems bogging down the  judicial system by thinking that he can solve crime with harsher sentences.

“Without enough judges of integrity, a well-resourced police force competent to investigate matters prior to arrests as opposed to after, no degree of strictness or harshness in the criminal justice system regarding punishment of crime or bail will solve the problem of escalating criminality in Uganda that springs from a shrinking economy, poor education system and spiraling unemployment that create many desperate people as well as bad governance that alienates and silences dissent,” Mr Kiiza said.

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