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Museveni speaks out on High Court scuffle

By Vision Reporter

Added 6th March 2007 03:00 AM

ON Thursday, suspects of the People’s Redemption Army were re-arrested at the High Court shortly after they were released on bail. The Judiciary suspended business in protest. Below is the President’s statement on the matter.

ON Thursday, suspects of the People’s Redemption Army were re-arrested at the High Court shortly after they were released on bail. The Judiciary suspended business in protest. Below is the President’s statement on the matter.

ON Thursday, suspects of the People’s Redemption Army were re-arrested at the High Court shortly after they were released on bail. The Judiciary suspended business in protest. Below is the President’s statement on the matter.

1. Introduction
Last Thursday, March 01, 2007, there was an incident at the High Court of Uganda, when the court released on bail nine People’s Redemption Army (PRA) suspects on treason trial.

The suspects thereafter were arrested by the Police on fresh charges of murder. The Acting Chief Justice, then, announced that the Judiciary would suspend all judicial work in all the courts of Uganda.

The media has been reporting extensively on this subject. In many respects the reports from some media houses have been inaccurate.

The Minister of Internal Affairs and the Attorney General will be making detailed statements on this tomorrow (Tuesday, 6th March 2007).

The purpose of my statement today is, without commenting on the merits or demerits of the matter pending determination by court, to give to the general public the facts on this issue especially in light of the falsifications by The Monitor newspaper of February 06 2007, on what I told the NRM Parliamentary Caucus the previous day. The Monitor falsely claimed then that: “Mr Museveni said none of the jailed rebel suspects of the PRA would walk free unless they apply for amnesty”.

2. Independence of the Judiciary
Under the 1995 Uganda Constitution, separation of powers was clearly laid out. According to Article 128 (1) of the Constitution of Uganda, in exercise of judicial powers, the courts shall not be subjected to the control or direction of any Authority.

On the other hand, the Executive Authority in Uganda is vested under article 99 of our Constitution in the President. The President is given the responsibility of executing and maintaining the Constitution and all laws of Uganda.

Among other things, it shall be the duty of the President to abide by, uphold and safeguard the Constitution and the laws of Uganda and to promote the welfare of the citizens and protect the territorial integrity of Uganda.

I would like to reiterate the well-known position of the Government that the independence of the Judiciary guaranteed by the Constitution is fully respected and strictly followed by the Executive. Similar respect must be accorded to the Executive in exercise of its constitutional Executive duties.

2. Prosecution of the suspects in civil courts

The PRA suspects were arrested in November 2004, in various parts of Uganda (West Nile, Rukungiri/Bushenyi, Busia and Kampala).

Subsequent to the arrest, the said suspects were charged in the Chief Magistrate’s Court with treason and misprision of treason. The said offences are triable only by the High Court.

3 Law Governing Grant of Bail

3.1 Constitutional provisions Article 23(6) of the Constitution provides that a person arrested in respect of a criminal offence “is entitled to apply to court to be released on bail, and the court may grant bail on such conditions as the court considers reasonable.”

3.2 Position of the High Court on the law relating to the grant of bail
At the time the PRA suspects including Kizza Besigye applied for bail after committal, the judges of the High Court held two contradictory views on the law relating to the grant of bail.

Some judges were of the view that under Article 23(6) of the Constitution, they had discretion to grant or refuse to grant bail, while others held the view that bail was an automatic mandatory constitutional right.

Justice Edmond Ssempa Lugayizi granted bail to the PRA suspects on the ground that bail is an automatic constitutional right to any accused person who applies for bail.

The DPP objected to the grant of bail and requested the judge to refer the matter to the Constitutional Court under article 137(5) of the Constitution for interpretation as to whether or not bail is a mandatory constitutional1 right. The judge declined to refer the said matter to the Constitutional Court.

Justice James Ogoola, the Principal Judge, when Dr. Kizza Besigye applied for bail which was opposed by the DPP, after the review of the decided cases by the High Court concluded that “there is thus a real and serious controversy as to what is the state of law”, as to whether or not bail is mandatory constitutional right.

The Principal Judge referred the matter to the Constitutional Court for interpretation. Pending the interpretation of article 23(6) of the Constitution, the Principal Judge granted Dr. Besigye what he termed interim/ provisional bail.

3.3 Constitutional Court decision on bail
Justice J. Ogoola referred to the Constitutional Court for interpretation the following question: “whether under article 23(6) of the Constitution, courts have discretion to grant or not to grant bail.”

The Constitutional Court determined that the grant of bail is not a mandatory constitutional right but a discretionary statutory matter upon satisfaction of the court that exceptional circumstances exist to justify the grant of bail and that the applicant will not abscond when released on bail.

However, the original mistake was for the court to release people on bail who were facing very serious criminal charges. Firstly, it’s the view of government and, the practice of our courts in the past, that one is not bailable as of right especially when facing capital offence charges.

Court must be satisfied that there are special circumstances like advanced age, very severe health condition or ill-health or when the DPP expresses no objection to the bail application. Court must consider whether there is a risk the suspect will not turn up for the next court appearance.

This will depend on how serious the charge is, how strong the case against the accused appears to be and how serious the likely punishment would be in this case the death penalty.

Otherwise how will the Executive perform its constitutional duty to provide security to the ordinary law abiding citizen against a serial murderer who is released on bail by court because bail is ‘automatically’ granted upon application by the accused?

I am glad the Constitutional Court has now restored the reasonable way of handling this by deciding that bail is granted at the discretion of court.

Secondly, the fact that we live in a very volatile region must never be lost sight of. As long as the region remains unstable, we must not expect co-operation from some of our neighbours.

Even where the governments are co-operative, they may not be able to help. That is why Kony and his group have been in Garamba National Park in the DRC for long and Uganda has not got them back.

Therefore giving bail to people accused of engaging in acts of treason and terrorism is tantamount to sending them away and out of reach of the law.

4. The arrest of PRA suspects on murder charges

Last Thursday, March 01 2007, the High Court granted bail to the 9 PRA suspects and ordered their release.

They were then, after their release, arrested by the Police on fresh charges of murder preferred by the Director of Public Prosecutions against them.

The Judiciary objects to the manner in which this arrest was affected. It is possible that government lawyers and security officers could have overreacted in this process.

Government will investigate the matter and determine if there were breaches of the law or procedure in the process of re-arresting the suspects and, if indeed there were breaches it will take corrective measure.

It is not true therefore to say that government has been acting in defiance of court orders. If at the end of the court process court makes orders, those orders will and must be executed in accordance with the law.

All government is waiting for is the determination by court of the substantive criminal case against the accused. We hope this will be done expeditiously.

5. Release of the PRA suspects under the amnesty law

The PRA suspects were arrested and charged with treason and misprision of treason for having engaged in war or armed rebellion against government.

Amnesty is available to the said PRA suspects under the Amnesty Act, if they apply for the same. The effect of amnesty is that they are not only released from prison, but they are completely absolved of criminal prosecution for treason and misprision of treason.

M/s. James Katabazi, Peter Atwongyeirwe and George Tumwesigye were among the 22 PRA suspects decided to renounce rebellion and commitment to the PRA by applying for amnesty and were granted the same on 12 January, 2007.

On February 08,2007, the Amnesty Commission granted amnesty to three others. In all, 12 have applied for amnesty. As a consequence, the charges against them were dropped by the State and they were released. PRA suspects who have not applied for amnesty are assumed to be still committed to the PRA.

Unless they renounce and abandon rebellion and are granted amnesty, there is a strong likelihood that they will go back to engage in PRA activities, if they are released on bail. Hence the application in paragraph 4 above to review the previous grant of bail by the High Court.

6. Strike by the Judiciary
It is in view of the above that I call on the Judiciary to continue doing their normal duties. The Judiciary is one arm of the Government of Uganda. The public should remain calm and continue doing their usual business.

The three arms of government have met and had consultations on the matter and agreed on what to do to prevent the reoccurrence of a similar incidence. It was further agreed that a legal and transparent modus operandi for re-arresting the suspects released by the court will be formulated and agreed on by the agencies involved in the administration of justice.

Thank you

Museveni speaks out on High Court scuffle

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