The on-going strike at the Office of the Directorat of Public Prosecution requires assessing the constitutional protection of the rights of suspects of crime being held at police stations, because they cannot be brought before a court law. All over the country, suspects are being held in police cells for longer than the 48 hour as mandated by the Constitution of Republic of Uganda, 1995 for various reasons one. One of the reasons cited by the police is that they need Sate Attorneys to “sanction” the file before suspects are brought before the court.

Is this the position of the law? Decoding the 48-hour rule: Article 23 (4) of the Constitution of Uganda allows for the detention of a suspect for a maximum of 48 hours for the purposes of: a) Bringing him or her before a court in execution of an order of a court; or b) Upon reasonable suspicion of his or her having committed or being about to commit a criminal offence under the laws of Uganda;

Before the expiration of 48 hours of detention, Uganda Police Force has the following legal alternatives: a) Release of the suspect if the investigation is completed and the individual is found to be innocent; b) Release of the suspect on police bond if the investigation is on-going; or c) Produce the suspect in front of a Magistrate and request that they are remanded if the investigation is on-going and there exists a risk of the detainee absconding.

Directorate of Public Prosecution (DPP) is empowered by Article 120 (2) (b) “to institute criminal proceedings against person or any authority in any court with competent jurisdiction other than the court martial”. Does this provision prohibit police from bringing suspects before the court of law if the case is not sanctioned by the DPP? The answer the this question is found in Article 20 (1) that demands all organs of government and all persons must respect rights and freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution and Article 28 (1) that protects the right to a speed trial.

Thus while the Directorate of Public Prosecution is vested with the constitutional mandate to initiate criminal proceedings, it has an overriding obligation to respect human right- Article 20 (1) and to safeguarded the right to a speedy trial – Article 28 (1). In this context, “sanction a file” is an administrative process that cannot trump constitutional rights.

Thus the police may bring a person before a Magistrate even where the file has not been “sanctioned” by the DPP. This position is rather reinforced by Article 23 (6) (b) and (c) authorises a Magistrate to remand a suspect for 60 and 180 days respectively for minor and capital offence respectively. The purpose of these provisions is to allow the state (police and DPP) to carry out investigations.

We can therefore conclude that our laws do not prohibit the police from bringing a suspect before a court of law where the rights of the suspect are at stake such as detention beyond 48 hours. While the DPP is has the constitutional mandate to instigate criminal proceedings, “sanctioning” of a file is an administrative process that is inferior to the constitutional obligation to respect human right- Article 20 (1) and to safeguarded the right to a speedy trial – Article 28 (1).

Credit: Foundation for Human Rights Initiative




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