DPP, Justice minister push for amendment of 48-hour law to produce suspects in court.

Updated by Faith Barbara Namagembe at 0952 EAT on Tuesday 28th February.

The director of public prosecutions (DPP) is seeking a constitutional amendment that will provide a window for the extension of the 48-hour rule before which a suspect can be produced before court.

DPP Jane Frances Abodo says that the proposed amendment is for only complex cases like terrorism, theft of huge funds and others which her office cannot investigate in a short time and present suspects before court within the 48-hour window.

Article 23(4) (b) of the Constitution provides that “a person arrested or detained upon reasonable suspicion of his or her having committed or being about to commit a criminal offence, shall, if not earlier released, be brought to court as soon as possible but in any case not later than 48 hours from the time of his or her arrest.”

Now according to Abodo, the 48-hour rule was brought into the country’s law books way back in the 1995 Constitution and 28 years later, crime has changed both in the way it is committed and the people committing it.

“You cannot say that within 48 hours, you can be able to actually do a meaningful investigation of a terrorism case and have someone in court…. otherwise we shall not have anyone in court. The 48-hour rule should be there but we are asking….can the time be enlarged in some cases, that we go to court and ask for enlargement of time…that we have ABCD to handle…we are not saying all offences but it will be a case by case basis and not generally,” said Abodo.

She emphasized the need to have time enlarged beyond 48 hours to enable the state to present clear cases to court.

“The 48 hours is constitutional but it is impractical for us who are on ground. It is really impractical to do that in some cases…these are cases we are saying that we should be able to go to court and make an application for more hours to cover some ground investigations. We can keep the person beyond the 48 hours,” Abodo emphasized.

She also noted that the 48 hours can be ideal if there are enough prosecutors on the ground to handle investigations quickly. The DPP made the remarks on the sidelines of the 10th annual conference of the East Africa Association of Prosecutors (EAAP) that started yesterday Monday, in Munyonyo.

EAAP brings together 11 prosecuting agencies from different African countries like Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, South Sudan, Zambia, Ethiopia, Burundi, Rwanda, Malawi and others. The conference is under the theme “Transboundary Crime: Practical Approaches to Protecting Women and Children.”

Abodo’s remarks followed those of Justice and Constitutional Affairs minister Norbert Mao who noted that he would like to amend the law on the 48-hour rule but hastened to add, that the human rights defender in him opposes the same. 

Without divulging more details about the issue, Mao highlighted the need for a collective effort by law enforcement agencies at a regional level to handle transboundary crime which has become a major challenge.

In his statement, chief justice Alfonse Owiny-Dollo also said that the conference theme is appropriate as studies regionally and globally have indicated that women and children make up the vast majority of victims of crime globally. 

“This is no exception for the East, the South and the Horn of Africa regions. Victimhood for the most vulnerable of society is exacerbated when it takes the form of a transboundary nature. Transboundary crimes include human trafficking, cybercrime, terrorism, and money laundering, among others. Transboundary crimes put the victims in a more precarious situation, across the borders of their mother countries. Women and children, who are the most trafficked lot, are more susceptible to sexual exploitation and abuse,” said the chief justice.

He added that law enforcement agencies are enjoined to intervene with a view of ameliorating the effect of transboundary crime. Owiny-Dollo encouraged African countries to cooperate to fight the problem saying that no one nation or agency or institution of government can single-handedly combat transboundary crime.

Owiny-Dollo expressed gratitude that the leadership of the East African Association of Prosecutors has timely realized the need, and through collective efforts, has achieved a lot in responding to these crimes. 

“When I was the head of the International Crimes Division (ICD), I had the onerous benefit of presiding over the trial of a case involving several persons accused of executing the infamous July 11th 2010 Kampala bombings at Kyadondo Rugby Club and Ethiopian Village restaurant. The accused were variously charged with the offences of terrorism, murder, and attempted murder of innocent civilians who had gathered to watch the 2010 World Cup football final match hosted by South Africa. I handled the trial which took more than a year and had several of the accused persons convicted. During this protracted trial, I was able to observe, firsthand, the importance of coordination, cooperation and collaboration (3Cs) of law enforcement agencies in our region,” the chief justice recounted.

He said that some of the suspects had to be extradited from Kenya and Tanzania and that at the same time, some of the vital evidence had to be collected from the neighbouring states. 

“Had there been a lapse in the 3Cs, the DPP of Uganda would have had a tall order in effectively and successfully prosecuting an international case of that magnitude,” said Owiny-Dollo.

He encouraged the prosecutors to ensure that coordination, cooperation and collaboration should be the major drivers behind their transformation strategy so that they are able to listen, observe, monitor and then act together against transboundary crime in this region.

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