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By Timothy Lumunye

In line with the standard public health guidelines, Uganda had to institute a partial lockdown of the country when it was confirmed that there was an outbreak of COVID-19 within the country. When the lockdown was instituted only “essential” services were allowed to operate, those deemed basic and yet indispensable without which the nation would collapse.

Indeed the COVID-19 pandemic means we are wading in uncharted waters. But with no vaccine in the near future and with the number of patients increasing by the day, there is no way of predicting how long the lockdown will be in force, or how long it will take for judicial work to return to “normal”. This article therefore examines existing interventions in the administration of justice, challenges and how the pandemic presents an opportunity for access to justice through LC Courts.

 

Current efforts by the Judiciary

The Judiciary was listed as an essential service but would only hear remands, urgent mentions, bail and other very pressing interlocutory applications. Court registries were directed to stay open but only for the purposes of filing new suits. Even then extreme social distancing was to be practiced by all participants to the court process. To mitigate this, the Chief Justice issued the “Guidelines for on-line hearings in the Judiciary of Uganda”. The Guidelines indicate that online hearings may be used for inter alia, delivering of judgments and rulings, plus the hearing of bail applications, mentions and interlocutory applications. Attendance/participation is by invitation through a Judiciary provided link. The hearing of these matters is not exclusively limited to the online option though and in some cases, advocates and parties appear in person before the judicial officer.

These efforts are building upon a foundation set by other recent Judiciary interventions.  For example the installation of a Video Conferencing Facility between Buganda Road Court and Luzira Maximum Prison (Male and female Wing), Kigo Government prison and Kitalya Government prison.  Initially it aimed at handling cases at mention stages especially in very sensitive cases that require a high level of security where transporting the accused persons to Court may cause security threats to the entire public or unnecessary cost.  

 

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Editor's Note: The writer is a Magistrate Grade 1, Courts of Judicature. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his own.

 

Published: May 18 , 2020

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Tuesday, 28 April 2020 16:33

#COVID-19: Museveni pardons 833 prisoners

 

President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni has exercised his constitutional powers to pardon 883 prisoners across the country.  

The Constitution under article 121(4) says that: The president may, on the advice of the committee [Prerogative of Mercy committee], grant to any person convicted of an offence a pardon either free or subject to lawful conditions; grant to a person a respite, either indefinite or for a specified period, from the execution of punishment imposed on him or her for an offence; substitute a less severe form of punishment for a punishment imposed on a person for an offence; or remit the whole or part of a punishment imposed on a person or of a penalty or forfeiture otherwise due to Government on account of any offence.

Frank Baine, the spokesperson of the Uganda Prisons Services, said the details of who is going to be released and what kind of sentences they have been serving will be communicated as of when they have worked them out. 

Museveni’s move to pardon such a big number of prisoners is in line with government’s efforts to decongest prisons which are said to be potential places for the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) disease.

 

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Published: April 28, 2020

 

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The Inspector General of Police JM Okoth-Ochola(Esq) has issued instructions to all Police officers in Uganda following the establishment of a COVID 19 case at Masindi Police Station on Friday 1st May 2020. These guidelines include: 

a) All police officers must wear face masks at all times while on duty without excuse. Failure to do this shall lead to arrest and prosecution

b) No officer shall be found carrying a passenger, a suspect or a colleague on a motorcycle while on or off duty. Over loading police vehicles too is prohibited.

c) All officers in charge of Barracks administration are tasked with improving the Barracks environment to promote personal hygiene and good sanitation.

 

 

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Published: May 4, 2020

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Following its statement that was issued on the 25th of March 2020 on the human rights concerns in dealing with Covid-19, the Uganda Human Rights Commission (UHRC) continues to monitor the observance of human rights, duties and responsibilities in the fight against Covid -19 in line with its mandate under Article 52 of the Constitution of the Republic of Uganda. 

The Commission has been monitoring the human rights situation in the last three weeks of the lockdown and now wishes to appreciate the good work done by the Government of Uganda under the strategic leadership of His Excellency the President, and under various Ministries, Departments and Agencies, with the Ministry of Health at the helm in conjunction with all security agencies, particularly for the well-designed multi-sectoral preventive and response measures to COVID-19 in the country.

 

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Published: April 24, 2020

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By Dr. Patricia Achan Okiria

As the country experiences the 21 days additional lock down arising from the various directives issued H.E the President of the Republic of Uganda, it is important to note that these directives are within the law. The institutions charged with the responsibility to observe and enforce these directives also need to ensure that their actions are within the law. There are a number of legal items to reflect upon as we implement the guidelines.

The Constitution of Uganda as the supreme legal instrument under Objective 23 states that “the State shall institute effective machinery for dealing  with  any  hazard  or  disaster  arising  out  of  natural  calamities  or  any  situation  resulting  in  general displacement of people or disruption of their normal life”. COVID-19 has disrupted the normal life of citizens. 

The Public Health Act (Cap. 281) 

This law empowers the Minister of Health to take measures to combat the spread of an infectious disease. Under this law, a number of statutory instruments have been published to implement the measures given by the Presidential directive to prevent the spread of COVID-19. These instruments include: 

a) Public Health (Notification of COVID-19) Order, 

b) SI No 45/2020; Public Health (Prevention of COVID-19) (Requirements and Conditions of Entry into Uganda) Order, 

c) SI No 46/2020; Public Health (Control of COVID-19) Order, 

d) SI No 52/2020; and Public Health (Prohibition of Entry into Uganda) Order, SI No 53/2020. The Public Health Act therefore provides a robust legal framework for the government to implement the directives against COVID-19 in Uganda.

At the Local Government Level, the Local government authorities have the power to enforce these regulations. 

The Ministry of Health has remained key as front line personnel in the fight against COVID-19. They have played a significant role by providing technical guidance for government authorities, health workers and other key stakeholders against community spread of the pandemic.

The Security forces have also played an important role against the COVID-19 pandemic, GOU has heavily relied on the supportive role of the security forces which has enhanced the Civil- Military Cooperation in Uganda.

The Public Health crisis resulting from the COVID-19 has had immediate head-on effects which will have longer economic implications. Unsurprisingly, during this time of near-universal crisis, the government has enlisted the armed forces to help in combating the pandemic. 

The National Security Council has set up an Inter-Agency Joint Task Force (JTF) at National and Regional levels to support the Ministry of Health (MOH) in Combatting CODIV 19 epidemic in Uganda. The JTF is led by the Uganda Peoples’ Defence Forces’ (UPDF) Deputy Chief of Defence Forces,

The Security forces in Uganda possess a national command network with experience emergency response and disciplined manpower who can be deployed at relatively short notice to help supplement civilian frontline services during national emergency situations. 

The National Security Forces have been deployed to ensure observance of the mandatory quarantine and ensuring compliance to the guidelines. 

There have been some allegations of human rights violation and aggravated torture of several women and some men who were being accused of flouting curfew orders and the ban on public spaces. However, the leadership of both the UPDF and UPF have come out clearly and strongly condemned the outrageous and gross acts of misconduct by the officers, who instead of protecting the constitutional and civil rights of the victims, violated it with the excessive use of force. Such cases have been taken seriously and the concerned officers have been arrested and charged in the court martial.

Civil cooperation

So far there has been a high level of cooperation demonstrated by majority of the people in Uganda in ensuring compliance with the safety measures issued to secure the country from the COVID-19 threat. However, there are some citizens taking risks by failing to stay at home and violated the ban on curfew contrary to the law. Under the Penal Code (CAP 120), a person who does any negligent act, which is and which he or she knows or has reason to believe to be likely to spread the infection of any disease dangerous to life, commits an offence and is liable to imprisonment for seven years.

It is very unfortunate to note the incident where a civilian attacked a UPDF soldier and he lost his eye in an operation to enforce the presidential directive on curfew. It is important that the Citizens to maintain cooperation with security forces and avoid attacking the security forces and defying the directives on COVID-19.

Despite the challenges faced in enforcing the directives on COVID-19 pandemic, we appreciate the health officials and the security officers of integrity who pride themselves on high standards of discipline and professionalism to keep our country and all Ugandans safe and secure. For God and my Country.

 

Dr. Okiria is a commissioner at the Uganda Human Rights Commission

 

Published: April 23, 2020

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 #Press Release

The European Union and its Member States are working to contain the spread of the coronavirus both in Europe and beyond. Our joint priority is to save lives, heal the sick, protect the vulnerable, and strengthen research, support health systems and economies. To help Uganda address both the health emergency caused by the Covid-19 pandemic and its longer-term socio-economic impacts, the European Union (EU) Delegation to Uganda is re-focussing its existing cooperation and mobilizing additional funding.

The EU will disburse a total grant amount of EUR 30 million (around UGX 120 billion) to Uganda’s National Treasury. This sum will be made available by urgently speeding up budget support disbursements due later this year. Part of this amount will be directed to support the short-term response of the Ministry of Health to the pandemic.

 

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 Editor's noteThe European Union is a member of the JLOS Development Partners Group.

 

Published: April 15, 2020

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Today, 18.04.2020, the Joint Task Force conducted nationwide operations to crackdown on motorists flouting the ban on movement of vehicles, as part of government efforts to fight the spread of the corona virus in Uganda. The task teams created several checkpoints and found motorists who had left their homes to visit friends, go for non-essential shopping, transporting passengers, while others had no reason

 

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Published: April 19, 2020

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As one of the measures to curb the spread of Corvid-19 in courtrooms, the Nateete/Rubaga Magistrate’s Court has labeled court seats in conformity with guidelines issued by H.E The President, the Chief Justice and Ministry of Health to curb the spread of Corvid-19.

 

The head of station, HW Timothy Lumunye said the new arrangements were reached following consultations with the Judiciary members on the National Technical Corona Response Taskforce.

 

He said, “we have labeled the courtroom seats, using masking tape, in order to comply with the directive by H.E The Republic of Uganda, the Hon. the Chief Justice and the Ministry of Health observing social distance to avoid the spread of Corvid-19 at all courts.”

 

The Judiciary Public Relations Officer and member of the National Technical Corona Response Taskforce, HW Jamson Karemani, said this initiative will reduce congestion in courtrooms since the number of court users that can fit on the marked seats will be the only ones allowed in the courtrooms.

 

Ms Maureen Kasande, the Under Secretary and also member of the National Technical Corona Response Taskforce urges court staff to guide court users so that they observe the new regulations. Court orderlies have been equally implored to restrict court users attending court sittings.

 

Buganda Road Chief Magistrates Court has put in place similar measures have to ensure safety of court users as well as court staff.

 

These measures have been adopted alongside mandatory hand washing at the courts.

 

The Taskforce members are now encouraging all courts to mark courtroom seats to avoid overcrowding.

 

 

Published: April 18, 2020

 

 

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Uganda Human Rights Commission (UHRC) acting chairperson Dr. Katebalirwe Amooti Wednesday said such preventive measures are consistent with the provisions of articles 23 and 43 of the country’s Constitution.

UHRC urged security agents to respect human rights in the enforcement of the guidelines on preventive measures in line with article 221 of the Constitution.

Article 23 (1) guarantees the enjoyment of the right to personal liberty but also outlines circumstances under which one can be deprived of personal liberty which includes purposes of preventing the spread of an infectious or contagious disease.

“People should know that human rights can be limited for purposes of public order, public health, security, and morality,” Katebalirwe said.

 

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Published: March 27, 2020

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The Ag. Director of Public Prosecutions Mr. Alfred Elem-Ogwal has today issued a circular to all ODPP staff, JLOS institutions, the general public  and other stakeholders detailing operating procedures for the ODPP following the Presidential directives extending the COVID-19 lockdown for 21 days to 5th May 2020.

 

DOWNLOAD ODPP OPERATING PROCEDURES (Issued: 16th April 2020)

 

 

This circular follows the administrative guidelines issued on 20th March 2020 by Mr. Ogwal to all ODPP staff in the country. 

 

DOWNLOAD ODPP ADMINISTRATIVE GUIDELINES (issued: 20th March 2020)

 

 

For any inquiries, the ODPP has provided the following contact information:

 

Mr. Vincent Wagona

Deputy DPP/Management and Support Services

Tel. 0794-332085

 

Ms. Jacquelyn Okui

Public Relations Officer

Tel. 0794-332233

 

Ms. Barbara Masinde

PA to the Ag. DPP

Tel. 0794-332472

 

 

 

Published: April 17, 2020 (17.48 EAT)

 

 

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