Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | The Legal Aid Service Providers Network-LASPNET has asked the judiciary top leadership to prevail over judicial officers who use their positions to issue harsh bail conditions with intention of failing justice.
In their statement, the LASPNET Board of Directors led by Arthur Nsereko from the Public Interest Law, note that they have witnessed continued discrepancies in the grant of bail by a section of judicial officers at Buganda Road and Law Development Center courts “through attaching harsh and selective bail conditions to accused persons hence frustrating the access to bail as a recourse for Access to Justice contrary to the guideline’s issued by the Hon. Principal Judge dated 17th December 2021.”
They referred to the case of the Head of the Red Card Front Dr. Kiiza Besigye who was on May 25th, 2022 arraigned before Buganda Road Grade One Magistrate Siena Owomugisha, on charges of incitement of violence and granted a cash bail of Shillings 30million, an amount LASPNET says should be considered harsh and exorbitant.
Dr. Besigye refused to pay the bail fees, saying it was excessive until June 6th, 2022, when High Court Judge Micheal Elubu revised the bail money to Shillings 3 million concurring with the accused that the amount set by the lower court was excessive.
“We concur with his ruling that the earlier set bail conditions for Dr. Besigye were harsh, selective, excessive, and interfered with the accused right to bail under Article 23 (6) of the 1995 Constitution of Uganda which is hinged on the presumption of innocence,” reads the statement in part.
The offense for which Besigye is charged can be punishable upon conviction by imprisonment for a maximum of three years or a fine of Shillings 1.4 million. The fine as stipulated in the Penal Code Act is far below the bail cash, which is not given as a punishment but rather as security to show the commitment of the accused to return to the court for trial.
Apart from Dr. Besigye’s case, LASPNET also cited the case of eight activists from the Forum for Democratic Change who were arrested from the Mulago roundabout protesting against the increased commodity prices.
The activists who included Soroti Woman Member of Parliament, Anne Adeke, Deputy Lord Mayor Doreen Nyanjura, and 6 others appeared before the LDC court on May 30th, 2022 on charges of inciting violence and were consequently remanded until June 7th, 2022.
On their first appearance, the group was denied bail by the LDC court with the magistrate saying that it was past 5 pm. The group returned to court the following day but still failed to secure bail after State Attorney Joy Apolot asked the court to grant her one week to verify the documents of the sureties.
LASPNET says that on both occasions the activists were denied their right to apply for bail on mere technicalities contrary to Article 126 (2) (e) which says justice will be administered without due regard to technicalities. The activists appeared before Acting Chief Magistrate Augustine Alule, on Tuesday at the Law Development Centre Court and were granted cash bail of Shillings 1 million each, and their sureties executed a noncash bond of Shillings 10 million.
LASPNET wants the judiciary to uphold judicial independence as they administer justice and in accordance with the judicial mandate as enshrined in Article 128(1). They further want the judiciary to streamline the management of bail applications and issue orders in accordance with the given bail guidelines as well as the intention of Article 23 of the Constitution, respect both international and national laws regarding civil and political rights and minimize the discrepancies and frustration that the accused persons experience.
The organization further asked the prosecution “to respect the right to bail and desist from objecting to bail even when offenses are bailable and suspects have produced requirement prerequisite to grant of bail and provide professional legal opinion to investigating officers to avoid bringing flimsy cases to court and suspects to unreasonable incarceration.”
They also asked the Uganda Police Force to respect the right to liberty of accused persons and avoid arresting them on “flimsy” charges, arrest suspects with dignity and those that are reasonably suspected to have committed the offense and respect citizens’ rights to freedom of expression and association, and in case of peaceful demonstration to provide security instead of arresting.
The Legal Aid Service Providers Network (LASPNET) is an umbrella organization of fifty-three (53) Non-Government Organizations and seven (7) Honorary members with a mandate to provide a platform for effective networking and collaboration to enhance legal aid service delivery and access to justice for the most vulnerable and marginalized people, in a bid to ensure a “free and just society”.