Death sentence judgment puzzles lawyers

By Vision Reporter

Added 22nd January 2009 03:00 AM

The Supreme Court ruling on the death sentence has drawn conflicting interpretations from the legal fraternity, human rights activists and the public.

By Anne Mugisa, Raymond Baguma and Charles Ariko

The Supreme Court ruling on the death sentence has drawn conflicting interpretations from the legal fraternity, human rights activists and the public.

The court ruled on Wednesday that the death sentence commutes to life imprisonment if the President does not sign a death warrant within three years after the Supreme Court has confirmed the sentence against a convict.

The court ruled that the condemned person should be hanged within the three years after his sentence has been confirmed by the highest court.

The principal judge, Justice James Ogoola, said he needed to read the ruling first but added: “For long, courts will be deciding what was really meant.

The registrar of the Supreme Court, Henrietta Wolayo, said the ruling had many implications because there are different categories of people involved.
She said the judgment has to be studied carefully.

The acting director of civil litigation, Robinah Rwakoojo, said the ruling can immediately apply but advised the Government to come up with a law to strengthen the ruling.

Other lawyers agreed the ruling can apply even if no law is enacted.

The ruling came after 418 inmates on death row contested the constitutionality of the death sentence, the long time spent on death row and the use of hanging as a means of executing convicts.

Currently, there are 699 condemned prisoners. Some of them are still going through the appeal process, while others have petitioned President Yoweri Museveni for leniency after exhausting the court appeal processes.

According to Livingstone Ssewanyana, the executive director of the Foundation for Human Rights Initiative, the ruling implied that prisoners whose sentences were confirmed over three years ago will have their sentences commuted to life.

He, however, said death row convicts who are not hanged within three years would be imprisoned for life. Currently, those convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment serve only 20 years in prison and are freed.

But other lawyers said the ruling was not clear on whether the President will not have powers to pardon death row convicts after they have stayed in prison for over three years. They said it was also unclear whether the judgment would benefit prisoners who have been in jail already for over three years.

Meanwhile, human rights activists have described the ruling as unconstitutional and said they will intensify the campaign against the death penalty.

Ssewanyana said the ruling offers human rights activists an opportunity to lobby the Parliament for appropriate reforms to ensure that the right to life is taken seriously. He said life imprisonment helps one reform unlike death.

He added that they would lobby the Government to examine the method of execution. Currently, condemned people are hanged.

Mohammed Ndifuna, the national coordinator of Human Rights Network, a local NGO, said: “As human rights defenders, our position is that the right to life is inalienable and should not be taken away by the State.”

Death sentence judgment puzzles lawyers

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