Uganda

- Pre-trial detention

What is a pre-trial detention under Ugandan law?

After custody, the person arrested may be released on bail or placed in pre-trial detention.

Pre-trial detention refers to the locking up of a suspected person on criminal charges in police and/or prison before the completion of her/his trial.

Legislation:

  • Section 76 of the Magistrates court act

For more informations:

  • Karugonjo-Segawa (R.), Pre-Trial Detention in Uganda, 2016, p.3

On what grounds and when is a pre-trial detention allowed?

A magistrate’s court – before which a person arrested and intended appears – may at any stage in the proceedings:

  • direct the removal in custody of that person;
  • release that person on bail or placed in pre-trial detention that person if may not be released on bail.

Indeed – according to the Ugandan law – the personal liberty is the rule and detention is the exception. Thus the grounds of a pre-trial detention are found when the grounds of a release on bail are not.

In deciding to grant or refused the release on bail, the magistrate’s court may refuse a release on bail and thus allow a pre-trial detention if:

  1. the nature, gravity and severity of the punishment of the offence explain a detention;
  2. the antecedents of the person to be released explain a detention;
  3. the person to be released has not a residence within the area of the court’s jurisdiction;
  4. the person to be released is likely to interfere with a witness or evidence.

Where bail is not granted, the court shall record the reasons and inform the applicant of the right to apply for bail to a chief magistrate or to the High Court, depending on the circumstances of the case.

Legislation:

  • Section 23 of the Constitution
  • Section 63 of the Magistrates court act
  • Section 75 of the Magistrates court act
  • Section 77 subsection 2 of the Magistrates court act
  • Section 77 subsection 3 of the Magistrates courts act

For more informations:

  • Ayume (F.-J.), Criminal Procedure and law in Uganda, 1986, p.43

What are the procedural safeguards for pre-trial detention?

Since a pre-trial detention follows the arrest unless a release on bail, the procedural safeguards for pre-trial detention refer to the procedural safeguards for a warrant of arrest.

A warrant of arrest shall:

  • be issued by a magistrate’s court;
  • bear the seal of the court issuing it;
  • name or otherwise describe the person against whom it is issued;
  • order that person to be presented before the court named in it; and
  • state a description of the offence(s) with which the person is charged.

Any irregularity in the substance or form of a warrant shall not affect the validity of any proceedings of the case; unless the irregularity appears to deceive or misled the accused the court may – at the request of the accused – adjourn the hearing of the case and remand or admit the accused to bail.

The statement of the offence shall respect the rules for framing of charges. A charge may be open – to objection in respect of its form or content – if it is not framed in accordance with the specific provisions stated by law.

The person executing a warrant of arrest shall notify the substance of the warrant to the person suspected (and show the warrant if requested); and then shall bring that person before the court required without unnecessary delay.

Legislation:

  • Section 56 of the Magistrates court act
  • Section 61 of the Magistrates court act
  • Section 64 of the Magistrates court act
  • Section 85 of the Magistrates court act
  • Section 88 of the Magistrates court act

What is the legal duration of pre-trial detention?

The Ugandan Constitution states that a person arrested shall be released on bail:

  • if that person has been remanded in custody before trial for 120 days in the case of an offence which is triable by the High Court and its subordinate court;
  • if that person has been remanded in custody for 360 days before trial in the case of an offence which is triable only by the High Court.

But in Foundation for Human Rights Initiatives v. AG, 2006, the Magistrates Court Act’s restriction on period of pre-trial remand (240 days for non-capital offences and 480 for capital offences) was read down to be consistent with the Constitution.

Article 23 subsection 6 – as interpreted by the Court – limits the maximum lawful period of detention:

  • for cases triable by the High Court and its subordinate courts, it is limited to 60 days;
  • for cases triable only by the High Court, it is limited to 180 days.

Legislation:

  • Article 23 subsection 6 of the Constitution
  • Foundation for Human Rights Initiatives v. AG, 2006

For more informations:

  • Avocats Sans Frontières, The problem of Lengthy Pre-Trial Detention in Uganda, 2013

Where are the places of police custody?

A person arrested, restricted or detained shall be kept in a place authorised by law and these places are to be officially gazetted by the Minister of Internal Affairs.

On the other hand, the Prison act allows a police officer or any other law enforcement officer to arrest and detain an accused person in a lock-up, but in any case for not more than 48 hours from the time of his or her arrest. A “lock-up” is a place maintained by a district or a police force, where arrested persons are temporarily detained, pending production in court .

Furthermore untried prisoners, as a person placed in pre-trial detention, shall be kept separate from convicted prisoners because they are prisoners who are presumed to be innocent.

Legislation:

  • Section 23 of the Constitution
  • Section 2 of the Prisons act
  • Section 64 subsection 1 of the Prisons act
  • Section 117 of the Prisons act

For more informations: 

  • Karugonjo-Segawa (R.), Pre-trial Detention in Uganda in conjunction with the Uganda Human Rights Commission, 2012, p.4)

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