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Govt legal aid service providers launch drive to help suspects in police custody beyond 48 hours

The govervnment legal aid service providers has launched move to relieve the suspects in Police cells beyond 48 hours. (PML Daiy photo)

KAMPALA– Justice Centres Uganda (JCU) a Project of the Justice Law and Order Sector (JLOS) that provide Legal Aid Services to the poor, vulnerable and marginalized people in Uganda, this month launched a nationwide campaign to sensitise suspects at police stations on their rights not to be held at police stations beyond the mandatory 48 hours.

In a statement issued on Tuesday July 24, JCU decalred that the campaign would aim at identifying suspects who have been detained beyond 48 hours and work towards ensuring that they are either granted police bond or their matters are brought before court and they apply for bail or are remanded to prison.

On Friday, 6th July, 2018 a team from Justice Centres Uganda-Mmengo Centre visited Kawaala Police Station to conduct an outreach to the detained suspects.

During the police outreach, it was discovered that four (4) suspects had stayed in custody for over three days and had not appeared before court as mandated by Article 23(4) of the Constitution of the Republic of Uganda which provides that a person arrested has the right to be brought to court as soon as possible but not later than 48 hours.

One of the suspects at Kawaala had been arrested and charged with the offence of theft but he had not been given a chance to communicate to any of his family members and no one knew his whereabouts.

This, according the JCU statement contravenes the law which stipulates that a person arrested has the right to have their next of kin informed, at their request and as soon as practicable, of their restriction or detention (Article 23 (5) (a)) of the Constitution of the Republic of Uganda).

“We asked him for a phone contact of any of the persons he felt we should inform and as a result, he gave us that of his wife whom we immediately contacted. She stated that she didn’t know where he was and that she had waited for him the whole night but he hadn’t returned home and she was so worried,” the statement reads in part.

“We informed her about her husband’s arrest at Kawaala Police Station and requested her to urgently appear at the Police Station and stand surety for him so that he could be granted police bond,” the JCU statement adds.

The suspect was later released on police bond upon JCU’s intervention.

The Uganda Police Force (UPF) have on several attempts amet stiff resistance in proposing an amendment to the 48 hour rule.

The latest was a meeting between MPs on the Human Rights Committee and a police delegation led by the State Minister for Internal Affairs, Mario Obiga Kania, the IGP, Martin Ochola and the Deputy IGP, Mzeeyi Sabiiti in May.

The team was facing the MPs to respond to issues raised by the Uganda Human Rights Commission in their 19th Annual report which indicated that police have continued to flout the 48 Hour rule.

The commission recommended that the police force should adhere to the law and equip its officers with the necessary facilities to enable them efficiently perform their duties and fulfill the constitutional obligation to bring suspects to Court within 48 hours.

Police argue that they face a number of challenges in enforcing this rule, some of which are not their own making.

“Some courts have magistrates that work a few days in a week while some State Attorneys operate over a wide area; besides, the 48 Hour rule is not very realistic in all cases,” a police written response to the committee read in part.

“It is our intention at an appropriate time to propose a constitutional amendment where the rule will apply to the majority of cases but not all.”

The police wants exceptions in this rule to include cases committed across borders or within borders but whose investigations require movements across the country and capital cases that require extensive investigations like murder and terrorism.

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