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Judiciary shouldn't be accomplice in muzzling the watchdog

Chief justice Alfonse Owiny-Dollo

Chief justice Alfonse Owiny-Dollo

Recently New Vision journalist, Albert Arinaitwe was arrested and charged with criminal trespass.

Police arrested Arinaitwe while in the precincts of King’s College Budo where he had gone to investigate story about alleged involvement of some students in the acts of homosexuality.

Section 302 of the Penal Code Act Cap 120 provides that any person who (a)enters into or upon property in the possession of another with intent to commit an offence or to intimidate, insult or annoy any person; or (b)having lawfully entered into or upon such property remains there with intent thereby to intimidate, insult or annoy any person or with intent to commit any offence, commits the misdemeanour termed criminal trespass and is liable to imprisonment for one year.

Grade one Magistrate at Nsangi Magistrate Court, Wakiso district, denied Arinaitwe bail on first attempt. He was denied on account that one of the local council letters identifying a surety did not match with some of the details on the presented national identity card.

Eventually, he was released on bail, on second attempt. It is a fact that many Ugandans have national identify cards which don’t match with their actual residences. And this not an anomaly given that people have a right to sell their property and also move to any places as they please.

Even judicial officers because of the nature of their work, they keep switching residences. Therefore, for the state prosecutor to oppose such a bail application on such ground is being pretentious and on a finishing expedition in order to find any excuses to deny an applicant bail.

Some courts have debased the constitutional principle of the accused being innocent until proven guilty. Some courts have also been used by some powers to mete out punishments before conviction. And denial of bail and subsequent remand to prisons is one of those subtle punishments meted out by the judicial officers.

Arinaitwe presented sufficient sureties and besides, he was gainfully employed by a state enterprise, New Vision. If the point was that he could skip bail or disappear, his employer could vouch for him. In the past especially in the 1990s courts used to be reasonable and independent while presiding over matters where journalists were involved.

Many times, the former journalists with the then The Monitor, Charles Onyango-Obbo, David Ouma Balikowa and Wafula Oguttu were frequenly charged with as serious offences as sedition but they were never remanded in prisons. The courts then were opposed to arbitrary or unjustified deprivations of liberty.

Court or judiciary, being one of the state agencies is enjoined to ensure that all persons are treated equally before the law. The judicial officers must preside over these matters being guided by the principles expressed in the constitution and implied in the international conventions namely, the principle of fair trial, of the rule of law, of legal certainty, of proportionality and the principle of protection.

Do these officers even care that their decisions create unnecessary congestions in prisons!

Criminal trespass is one those outdated offences which have no place in the democratic societies. It was a law which was imposed on us by colonialists to protect the feudal lords. Unfortunately, our law reforms are not in tandem with the new demands of democratic credentials.

This arbitrariness exercised by the judicial officers and those vested with restrictive powers is meant to discourage the fourth estate from fulfilling its duty of making the powerful to account. The journalists play the watchdog role for the rest of the citizens and this should not be stifled by unreasonable judicial officers.

Comments

0 #1 Lakwena 2023-03-28 12:30
But the Observer Editors, at the risk of being abducted from your door-steps by criminals/kidnappers out to extort ransom, or your clothes drying on the line, goat and/or chicken etc. stolen; you can't possibly suggest that the Criminal trespass law is one of Colonial and outdated offences
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