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Fury as Cabinet okays President Museveni’s 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

KAMPALA, UGANDA: 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, to guide Cabinet on how to proceed on the proposed constitutional amendments.

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According to sources, 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”.

The proposal has attracted mixed reactions from the public with human rights defenders condemning ministers for backing what they have called “draconian laws”. They argue that the architects of this executive decision will be caught by the very laws.

The human rights defenders say that the bail reforms seek to curtail freedoms and take away the discretion of judicial officers to grant or deny bail.

Last month, President Museveni twitted criticizing bail for suspected killers as “provocation”.

“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?” Museveni wondered.

Mathias Mpuuga, Leader of the Opposition in Parliament has reacted to the proposal saying, “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.”

Source: Daily Monitor

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