Granting Leave for Legal Reform
In a move that could reshape the landscape of criminal prosecution in Uganda, Busiki County’s Member of Parliament, Hon. Paul Akamba, has been granted the parliamentary green light to introduce a groundbreaking Bill.
The aim? To abolish the practice of private individuals initiating criminal proceedings.
Restructuring Legal Authority
Under the current framework, Article 94(4) of the Constitution empowers private Members to introduce Bills, enabling Hon. Akamba to propel this transformative legislation forward.
The focal point of the proposed reform is Section 42 of the Magistrates Courts Act, which permits any individual – other than a public prosecutor or a police officer – to initiate private prosecutions when there’s reasonable cause to suspect an offense.
An Overhaul of Criminal Prosecution
Should Akamba’s Bill secure the endorsement of the Parliament and ultimately become law, a significant shift in the power dynamics of criminal prosecution would ensue. The exclusive right to initiate criminal proceedings would fall into the hands of the Director of Public Prosecutions, a prerogative shared with the Inspectorate of Government.
Akamba underscores the rationale behind his legal endeavor by arguing that involving magistrates in the investigative process for private prosecutions potentially infringes upon the fundamental right to a fair hearing.
He contends that such a setup could inadvertently result in investigating magistrates also handling cases they investigate, thus compromising the impartiality of the proceedings.
Ensuring Comprehensive Investigations
Akamba highlights a pertinent drawback of the current system, noting,
“…instituting private criminal proceedings, the Magistrates Courts Act [Section 42(3)] vests power in only the magistrate and local chief to make inquiries before drawing up a charge against an accused person, which process does not facilitate thorough investigations and the gathering of sufficient evidence to sustain a charge against an accused person.”
Clause 5 of Akamba’s Bill further outlines that all ongoing private prosecutions would transition to the Director of Public Prosecutions as soon as the proposed law takes effect, reinforcing the notion of consolidated prosecutorial authority.
Support and Skepticism from Fellow Legislators
Hon. Asuman Basalirwa, representing Jeema in Bugiri Municipality, lent his support to the endeavor. He echoed the sentiment that the Constitution’s framers envisaged criminal prosecution as the jurisdiction of the Director of Public Prosecutions, reinforcing that private prosecutions have historically led to the DPP taking over the proceedings.
However, Hon. Rose Obigah, representing Terego District, raised concerns about potential abuse within the existing framework. She asserted that the scope for private prosecutions could be manipulated by political adversaries and business rivals, urging for the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions to be entrusted with this responsibility to ensure a more unbiased and professional approach.
Reflecting on the Future
Deputy Attorney General Hon. Jackson Kafuuzi called for a pause to allow the Office of the Attorney General ample time to evaluate the implications of this transformative proposal.
As the debate over this Bill unfolds, it carries the potential to reconfigure the dynamics of criminal prosecution, potentially shaping a new era in Uganda’s legal landscape.