Less than 24 hours after President Museveni clashed with Chief Justice Owiny-Dollo over granting bail to capital offence suspects, the ruling National Resistance Movement-NRM Parliamentary Caucus is sitting this morning as stakeholders hold their breath hoping the meeting will resolve the contentious issue.
Lilian Aber, the NRM Parliamentary Caucus Secretary General has confirmed that the meeting scheduled to be addressed by the President will take place this morning at Kololo Independence grounds, starting at 10:00am.
However, the Kitgum Woman MP declined to reveal the agenda of the meeting when asked whether it was about the hot bail issue that has seen the Chief Justice Owiny-Dollo go head on with President Museveni. Aber said that the issue might come up but cannot be certain about the focus of the President’s address.
She said that the issue of bail is not only of concern to the President but also to many people who have lost their relatives to murderers. Aber notes that the caucus may discuss the issue and if it is agreed that they push for an amendment of the law, they will do so.
The unprecedented clash between the President and the Chief Justice on the issue of granting bail to persons accused of capital offences pending determination of their cases occurred at the 4th Annual Memorial Lecture for the slain former Chief Justice Benedicto Kiwanuka held at the Judiciary headquarters in Kampala where Museveni was the Chief Guest and Owiny-Dollo the host. It was organised under the theme, “Administration of Justice in Uganda through the years”.
At the event, the Chief Justice said bail is a constitutional right which is supposed to be either granted or denied upon the discretion of the presiding judicial officer who should also exercise that discretion judiciously.
Owiny-Dollo said a judicial officer cannot wake up from the good or wrong side of the bed and decide whether to grant or deny bail to an accused person, because it’s a constitutional right the officer has to grant upon considering a number of circumstances for instance, if one will abscond from trial or not among others.
Alphonse Owiny-Dollo added that however ,he has heard President Museveni on a number of occasions having a different view on the right to bail, saying that the judicial officers should remember the oath they took to dispense justice without fear or favour and independently.
But Yoweri Museveni said that the concept of dispensing justice has to be harmonized, challenging the judicial officers to go and read the Constitutional Commission proceedings where he says the majority of the people of Uganda didn’t want bail for capital offenses. But the former Chief Justice Benjamin Odoki who headed the Commission left it to the discretion of the judicial officers, which the president is opposed to.
According to Museveni who spoke very tough on the matter, granting bail is a provocation which will not be accepted. He gave examples of people who were killed by mob justice in Arua and in Gomba, saying that when courts give bail on capital offenses, societies become hopeless and start killing people who are charged with such crimes.
The President has severally in the past criticized the issue of granting bail. On Wednesday last week while speaking at the swearing in of new judges at State House Entebbe, Museveni insisted that bail is not a constitutional right.
“For somebody to kill a person and you give them bail is provocation,” the president said. “It is abominable. I would like us to cure this ideological disagreement. This bail, what is the hurry? Who are you trying to please? Who said bail is a right? It is not in the Constitution. We are going to work on this. I am going to summon the NRM caucus and if necessary, we put it to a referendum. With this provocation, people will take the law into their hands.”
Several judicial officers interviewed by media are firmly opposed to the proposal to remove bail on capital offences. But they don’t sit in the NRM caucus where the decision will be taken.