Museveni softens, now looks to Judiciary on bail reforms

President Museveni leaves the High Court in Kampala after officially opening the New Law Year 2022 on Friday.  PHOTO / ABUBAKER LUBOWA

What you need to know:

  • While opening the New Law Year 2022 on Friday in Kampala, Mr Museveni said he is happy with the bail reforms that the Judiciary has embarked on.

President Museveni is now looking to the ongoing amendments spearheaded by the Judiciary on whether to grant bail or not to suspected capital offenders.

The issue kicked up a huge debate late last year.

While opening the New Law Year 2022 on Friday in Kampala, Mr Museveni said he is happy with the bail reforms that the Judiciary has embarked on.

His statement seemed to suggest a softening of stance on his push for similar amendments to be driven by Cabinet and Parliament.

“The Judiciary also has a problem, because I know some of the elements, and I think the Attorney General was complaining about it. [On] the issue of bail, the Constitution says bail may be given, so it leaves the discretion; so here, the legislators did their work, they said these are bad things if you do them, you should die, this one, you should do this,” Mr Museveni said.

“Now some of the judicial people don’t care. I am very happy about the new law, the judicature something something .... that will say please, when you are deciding on bail, look at this and that. I think that will help us. Because for somebody who has killed a person, to say I have given bail, you are provoking people, that is how you are getting the mob action,” he added.

Mr Museveni said the release of suspects on bail was provoking the people before giving an analogy of how his son, Lt Gen Muhoozi Kainerugaba, was given the name Muhoozi.

“I have been talking, once in a while, complaining, saying the issue of bail is a provocation, you want people to kill one another. Because among the Banyakole, if you kill me, my clan is duty-bound to avenge. When you hear my son’s name [Muhoozi], when he was born, I said now I have got somebody to avenge for me; that is what his name means,” he said.

Mr Museveni said: “Now that I have got a boy, this is the one who will avenge in case something wrong is done to me,” he added.

In his remarks, Chief Justice Alfonse Owiny-Dollo revealed that the Constitutional Bail Guidelines for Courts of Judicature, 2022, seeks to iron out any sticky issues on bail.

He said this will be achieved by providing guidelines for the judicial officers to follow while issuing bail.

“The Constitutional Bail Guidelines for Courts of Judicature Practice Direction 2022, seek to put in place guidelines informed by the law as it is now on bail from the Constitution, Trial On Indictment Act, Magistrates Court Act, and then decided cases of courts of judicature,” Justice Owiny-Dollo said.

“We seek to put them together so that the judicial officer before whom bail applications come, does not act on his or her own whims, but is guided by the rules, taking care of the interests of all parties, the accused person, the victims, and the public so that when a decision is made, is not unreasonable.”

Late last year, while meeting the judges, President Museveni again drummed up his decade-long wish to scrap bail for suspects facing capital offences, a push that kicked up a huge debate among the legal circles, civil society and academia.

Mr Museveni reasoned that the release of suspects by courts passes for a provocation of victims and their families, and that it has since led to increased mob action against the suspects.

To that effect, Cabinet had by close of last year, 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 said the targeted crimes for which bail won’t be given in the new amendments once passed by Parliament, include charges of murder, rape, robbery and treason.

Some of the proposed bail amendments that government wants to cause include the amendment of 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 comes earlier.

The other key amendment is Article 23(4)(b) and Section 25 of the Police Act, 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” as working hours excluding weekends.

Other issues

Also in his remarks on Friday, the President listed five key areas that he asked the Judiciary to focus on for stability and economic growth in the country. They included protection of life, protection of property from looters or rioters.

The President also noted rape and defilement, corruption and attack on judges as the other key areas.

Under the protection of life, Mr Museveni said: “No killing, no extrajudicial killing, if the police, the DPP and the Judiciary could highlight this, you kill a person and within a reasonable time, you are convicted and my conviction, I don’t agree with what you are doing of life sentence, no…, you kill, you must die.”

“I can tell that what you (judges) are doing now does not go well with my people that life sentence, ...life sentence. It’s true, I have hanged only two people for the period I have been in the government [President]; Ssebirundi and Obura; but let the person be condemned to death and forgiven later and say if it was not for the President to forgive me, I was dead. So, protection of life, here, there is no comprise.”

On raping of women, Mr Museveni called for the maximum punishment of death by hanging for those proven liable.

“No raping, protect our women. Anybody who rapes, defiles a girl, must die. Those are the views of my constituency,” the President warned.

At the tail end of his speech, Mr Museveni promised to look into the welfare of the prosecutors under the Office of the DPP, whom he said were suffering and yet execute dangerous work.

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