MPs Sewanyana, Ssegirinya lose bid to halt their trial

MPs Allan Ssewanyana (L) and Muhammad Ssegirinya (R) gesture after addressing a press conference at the Opposition NUP party headquarters in Kampala on March 29, 2023. PHOTO | ISAAC KASAMANI

What you need to know:

  • On Monday, the court held that “the question of having the cases handled by different courts did not call for constitutional interpretation.”

Court has dismissed an application in which lawmakers Allan Ssewanyana and Muhammad Ssegirinya sought to halt their ongoing pre-trial sessions until the determination of their constitutional petition.

In the petition, MPs Ssewanyana (Makindye West) and Mr Ssegirinya (Kawempe North) challenged the legality of the decision by the International Crimes Division (ICD) of the High Court regarding protection of Witnesses.

Through their lawyers, the MPs sought a Constitutional Court interpretation on whether item 22 of the Judicature (ICD, High Court) Rules, 2016 is inconsistent with and contravenes articles 28, 42 and 44 of the constitution, whether the act of proceeding on similar charges based on similar facts to try the accused persons both at the ICD, Kampala and High Court Masaka is inconsistent with and contravenes Articles 28 and 44 of the Constitution.

But on Monday, International Crimes Division of the High Court Justice Alice Komuhangi Khakha ordered that the pretrial of a criminal session case against the pair shall proceed on agreed dates and that the MPs should seek an order for a stay of the proceedings from the Constitutional Court if they wish.

“I find that having disallowed the MPs' application for constitutional reference of the same questions which are currently before the Constitutional Court because the application lacked merit. This court cannot again stay its own proceedings pending the Constitutional Court decision on the same matter. It would be a grave contradiction,” Justice Khaukha ruled.

The two MPs together with four others are charged with the offenses of murder, attempted murder, terrorism, and aiding and abetting terrorism and currently undergoing pre-trial at the ICD of the High Court.

At the same time, the MPs and another have been indicted for murder, and the matter is currently in Masaka High Court.

On Monday, the court held that “the question of having the cases handled by different courts did not call for constitutional interpretation.”

“I wish to note that the applicants (MPs) are considering their convenience without due regard to the totality of the entire case. As already observed, the applicants are jointly charged with four others. Whereas the applicants were admitted on bail, the other accused persons are still on remand. I therefore find that staying the proceedings in this matter will cause immense inconvenience to the other accused persons,” Justice Khaukha ruled.

She also observed that the case against the MPs is still in the early stages of pre-trial and the court is yet to determine whether there is sufficient evidence to establish substantial grounds to believe that the applicants and others jointly charged with them committed each of the crime charges.

Immediately after the judge’s ruling, Ssegirinya apologized to court for not attending two court sessions, emphasizing that he has been out of the country undergoing treatment.

“Your honor I have skin cancer, hypertension, infection in the lungs and other diseases. When I was discharged from the Netherlands, a machine was placed on my body to monitor my life as I wait to go back for review on October 10,” he revealed.

Justice Khakha adjourned the case to October 24 for mention.