FEBRUARY 24, 2010: Tread Carefully With Bill on Bail

Tread Carefully With Bill On Bail
SOURCE: Observer

President Museveni is on a countrywide tour urging people to support a bill that will deny suspects accused of rape, corruption and child sacrifice their constitutional right to bail.

The President wants the suspects to be locked up for six months before they can be considered for bail. In effect, the President is handing a guilty verdict to the suspects before they are tried. This contradicts our laws that say that one is presumed innocent until proven guilty.

Moreover, much as bail is a constitutional right, it's granted at the discretion of the judge. The judge can still deny the applicant bail if he or she thinks that the suspect's release could jeopardise the investigations or gravely affect the witnesses or the public.

This persistent campaign by the President to have this law smacks of political expediency. It is very dangerous to make laws just to achieve certain narrow, if not selfish, political interests.

The trouble with such laws is that in future they can be used against the very persons who made them. Given the fact that many political opponents have in the past been imprisoned on trumped up rape, treason and terrorism charges, it is not far-fetched to imagine that this law is tailored to target such politicians just months to the 2011 general elections.

For instance, if a presidential candidate is arrested on false charges of rape or corruption in November, by the time the six months elapse for him/her to qualify for bail, the election would have taken place!

If passed, this law would play well into Minister Freddie Ruhindi's planned amendment to both the Presidential and Parliamentary Elections acts which seeks to declare a candidate the winner in case his opponent dies or pulls out of the race.

With a ban on bail, political opponents charged with rape and corruption would easily be knocked out of contention and their rivals would savour easy victory. The spirit behind this proposed law is therefore suspect. It needs to be shelved or discarded.