Parliament has granted Busiki County Member of Parliament, Paul Akamba, leave to introduce a Bill seeking to abolish the institution of criminal proceedings by private persons.
Article 94(4) of the Constitution permits private Members to introduce Bills.
Currently, Section 42 of the Magistrates Courts Act allows ‘any person, other than a public prosecutor or a police officer, who has reasonable and probable cause to believe that an offence has been committed by any person’ to institute private prosecutions.
If Akamba’s Bill becomes law, the Director of Public Prosecutions who in any case has the right upon an application to court to take over any private prosecution, would, together with the Inspectorate of Government enjoy exclusive rights to criminal prosecution.
Roping in the magistrates to cause investigations for purposes of private prosecutions, said Akamba, is a violation of the constitutional right to a fair hearing, since he said such cases could end up being handled by the very investigating magistrate.
“…instituting private criminal proceedings, the Magistrates Courts Act [Section 42(3)] vests power in only the magistrate and local chief to make inquiries before drawing up a charge against an accused person, which process does not facilitate thorough investigations and the gathering of sufficient evidence to sustain a charge against an accused person,” he said.
Clause 5 of the Bill provides for the automatic taking over of all private prosecutions which shall be active when the law commences.
“Where at the commencement of this Act, criminal proceedings have been instituted by a private person against any other person, the criminal proceedings shall be taken over by the Directorate of Public Prosecutions in accordance with Article 120 (3) of the Constitution,” reads Clause 5 of the Bill.
Asuman Basalirwa (Jeema, Bugiri Municipality) seconded the motion, saying there is a history of the Office of Director of Public Prosecutions taking over all privately instituted proceedings.
“The framers of the Constitution envisaged that matters of prosecution are a preserve of the DPP; in the history of this country, we have not seen a case being privately prosecuted without it being taken over by the DPP,” he said.
To Rose Obigah (NRM, Terego District), the current dispensation allowing private prosecution is open to abuse by political and business foes of those prosecuted.
The Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, she said, will do a better job.
“They [ODPP] will be able to dispense justice and do it professionally; this law [allowing private prosecutions] can be abused by political enemies and business rivals,” she said.
Deputy Attorney General, Jackson Kafuuzi asked for more time to allow the Office of the Attorney General to form an opinion on the proposal.